While Livni Is Polishing Her Wording

After 40 years of occupation, Arab states want to know: Does Israel plan to withdraw from the territories, dismantle settlements, come down from the Golan, and redraw its borders?

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni coined a diplomatic innovation when she appeared at the conference of the Union of Local Authorities. "Today I can place parties that have a common denominator in the same camp, including Arab states. The Iranian threat is an issue that also troubles the moderate states adjacent to Iran." Therefore, now is the time to forge alliances with moderate Arab states and also to talk with moderate Palestinians, even in a reality of terror. Because, in Livni's view, "in today's reality, the division between Jews and Arabs, or between right and left, has blurred. The [real] division is between extremists and moderates at various levels."

This is indeed an appealing distinction, one that circumvents the heart of the national struggle. It's as if there is really only one global struggle against extremist Islam, symbolized by Iran, and this struggle crosses national boundaries, shatters the national aspirations of the Palestinians and even renders meaningless the differences between political right and left. There is the West versus the East and nothing else. It's a very comfortable formulation for a member of a government that has not missed a single opportunity to weaken these same moderates or to drive them to despair.

While Livni is polishing her wording as someone who sees herself as a worthy candidate for prime minister, someone else is running the State of Israel. On the same day that Livni made her remarks, her boss, Ehud Olmert, met with Hosni Mubarak to talk about tens of millions of dollars more for Mahmoud Abbas, the release of another few hundred prisoners, and perhaps, only perhaps, a quadrilateral meeting in which Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Abbas would participate. Olmert's discussion with Mubarak, therefore, was not about a new diplomatic initiative or vision, but only about barter arrangements.

Not much was lacking for it to be said that the importance of the meeting with Mubarak lay in the very fact that it was held, as if he were an enemy rather than an ally who has been waiting for years for the Israeli side to hand him some real goods so that he could advance regional processes. Did Olmert really need to travel to Mubarak to talk about $100 million that belong to the Palestinians in any case, or about the need for tighter Egyptian supervision over the Philadelphi route?

But when important leaders like Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah - "moderates," in Livni's terminology, like those who dared to forge a peace treaty with Israel - are treated as apparatchiks, whose only function is to hold the lines, or when a meeting with them is considered a "gesture," as compared with a meeting with President Bush, which is considered a "summit," the title "moderate axis" loses its significance.

In any event, when from the perspective of the war of the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, one fails to notice the illegal outposts or the renewed construction in the Hebron market, Livni's new orientalist thesis collapses with a whimper over the division between "extremists and moderates at various levels," because this "moderate axis" also has a limited lifespan.

Mubarak is already preparing Egypt for his successor. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is no longer a youth. Jordan is a close friend, but does not have the same influence as its two neighbors. The leadership in Syria is in any case labeled as a supporter of terror, even as its president seeks to renew negotiations. Abbas is busy trying to curb the gang warfare in his own backyard, and instead of a diplomatic plan, he receives a dry kiss on the cheek from Olmert and a shipment of rifles. And on the day of the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, he and Mubarak receive a typical Israeli hazing: a deadly operation by undercover commandos in Ramallah.

The Arab League, which agreed in 2002 to grant Israel a security belt and a promise of normalization, in return for a withdrawal and the solution of the Palestinian problem, does not think anyone in Israel took it seriously. After 40 years of occupation, they want to know: Does Israel plan to withdraw from the territories, dismantle settlements, come down from the Golan, and redraw its borders? If the answer is negative, and if Israel only wants to talk about releasing several hundred prisoners and some tens of millions of dollars, it should continue to conduct its affairs vis-a-vis the terrorist organizations.