The Optimist and the Pessimist

The optimist: This week began with new political hope. The pessimist: Nonsense, it's all spin.

The optimist: This week began with new political hope. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised the Saudi initiative, and then met with Mahmoud Abbas for a "positive" discussion. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way here again, and the Saudis are convening a summit in Riyadh. Something is certainly moving behind the scenes.

The pessimist: Nonsense, it's all spin. The prime minister has plummeted below the sampling error in the polls, the Winograd report is threatening him with personal conclusions, and he is scrambling to rescue himself. Nothing will come of it.

The optimist: But the Saudi initiative guarantees Israel peace with all the Arab countries, backs the struggling Palestinians, brings Syria and Lebanon into the process, and strengthens the moderates vis-a-vis Iran. In brief, this is a dream deal for Israel, which in one fell swoop will be freed of the territories and will become part of the Middle East, and is a shot of encouragement for the peace camp, which has disintegrated in recent years.

The pessimist: The Saudis have interests too. They want to look good in America and hold influence in the Arab world. For them, the cheapest option is to offer Israeli concessions and a Palestinian right of return. We saw how they refused to change the initiative, even the problematic section about the refugees, in order for Israel to accept it as a basis for negotiations. If their king is serious, he will stop making statements to the press and come to Israel, or invite Olmert to Riyadh. And the Saudi initiative won't stop the Qassam rockets either, which will only come closer to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion International Airport.

The optimist: The Saudis may be problematic, but we cannot ignore the renewed American involvement in the peace process. Rice comes to the region every month, is talking about a diplomatic horizon and is trying to push things forward.

The pessimist: Nu, really. We've seen what this failing administration is capable of in Iraq, and where its previous efforts to promote an Israeli-Palestinian agreement have led. It's always nice to host Rice, but with whom can she work? Abbas is struggling to form a unity government, he does not control the region, and there's no point in even wasting words on Olmert's shaky situation.

The optimist: The weakness of the leaders is actually a source for hope. They both know that only a diplomatic deal could save their weak regimes, and therefore they will agree to the concessions necessary for an agreement. They have no other choice.

The pessimist: During Ehud Barak's time, we also believed weakness was strength. That the advanced age of Yasser Arafat and Hafez Assad, Barak's shaky coalition and Bill Clinton's pending retirement would push them to an agreement. The opposite happened. Due to their weakness, the leaders entrenched themselves in positions that prevented compromise, led to a blow-up and ended negotiations. And this is while there was still agreement on the goals. Now Abbas is begging for a final status agreement, and Olmert is ready only for a partial withdrawal.

The optimist: We have to agree, at least, that there is great importance to Olmert and Abbas meeting. This is preferable to the previous lack of communication, and leaves a faint ember of hope for a diplomatic process and peace. The cease-fire in Gaza is shaky, but holding. We must not give this up.

The pessimist: On the contrary, let them meet. In any case they have no better way of spending their time. But it's hard to get excited about a dialogue of the deaf - empty promises and rejected requests. Abbas' promises to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit are a fantasy at best, and misleading at worst. And I will conclude with a conspiracy theory: Olmert is a lawyer who takes care to cover himself, and the meetings with Abbas will yet serve to justify a large military campaign in Gaza. The minutes will prove he warned about war and tried to prevent it, but the Palestinians did not respond. It may be that Olmert's visit to the border of the Gaza Strip two days ago, during which he heard about the increasing threats on the other side of the fence and the Israel Defense Forces attack plans, will turn out to be much more significant than his talk of peace.