There’s no peace on the hori­zon. Get used to it

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Ab­bas and Olmert are fu­tile

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS - URI DROMI

THREE TIMES in my life I have touched peace. Two out of the three were real; one was false. In Novem­ber 1977, I was stand­ing on the Tar­mac at Ben Gu­rion Air­port, to­gether with an anx­ious crowd of peo­ple. Sud­denly a jet­liner with unfamiliar colours ap­peared, es­corted by three Is­raeli fighter jets. Our eyes were glued to this awe­some spec­ta­cle, know­ing that we were wit­ness­ing his­tory at the mak­ing. When the door opened, there was An­war Sad­dat, hith­erto the big­gest en­emy of Is­rael, com­ing to make peace with the Jewish state.

Sad­dat’s ges­ture was heroic, and it touched the heart of ev­ery Is­raeli. But peace is not ges­tures alone. Both the Egyp­tian leader and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Me­nachem Be­gin made heavy con­ces­sions — Sad­dat gave up the old Arab scheme to de­stroy Is­rael, and Be­gin, the man of Greater Is­rael, gave up Si­nai. Both rose to the high­est level of states­man­ship when they gave their peo­ples peace based not on rhetoric, but on solid in­ter­ests, aug­mented by in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments and eco­nomic in­cen­tives.

The sec­ond time I knew this was peace was in 1994, in Am­man, Jor­dan. King Hus­sein and Prime Min­is­ter Rabin were dis­cussing the de­tails of the peace treaty be­tween Jor­dan and Is­rael. The out­stand­ing is­sue was a piece of land on the border be­tween the coun­tries, north of Ei­lat. Ac­cord­ing to all maps it was a Jor­da­nian ter­ri­tory, but it so hap­pened that Is­raeli kib­butzniks ap­pro­pri­ated it and turned it from a piece of desert to a bloom­ing gar­den.

I was there as the chief spokesman of the gov­ern­ment, wait­ing to­gether with a horde of jour­nal­ists for the fi­nal press con­fer­ence. There was ten­sion in the air, be­cause of the Egyp­tian prece­dent: Be­gin gave Sad­dat all of Si­nai, to the last inch; how would King Hus­sein pos­si­bly settle for less?

Sud­denly, just be­fore dawn, the door opened and the two lead­ers ap­proached us. Rabin asked the king per­mis­sion to speak first. “When we en­tered the room,” he said, “we made a pledge to each other not to leave be­fore we reached an agree­ment.” The goose bumps I felt then I will carry with me till my last day.

Then they told us what had hap­pened. Rabin had right away ac­knowl­edged Jor­dan’s sovereignty over that piece of land. How­ever, he won­dered if there was a way to keep it in the hands of the Is­raeli farm­ers, who had in­vested so much in it and be­come at­tached to it. The King said, “Why not, I’ll lease it to you for as many years as you want.” How sim­ple things sud­denly be­come, when both sides are de­ter­mined to make peace.

The third time was dif­fer­ent. Stand­ing on the South Lawn at the White House on Septem­ber 13, 1993, I again saw the un­be­liev­able hap­pen: Rabin and Yasser Arafat, the for­mer arch-en­e­mies, shook hands. At first, the ex­cite­ment was the same, but quickly, things went wrong.

Soon af­ter he had signed the peace treaty with Is­rael, Arafat spoke both at Jo­han­nes­burg and Cairo to Arab au­di­ences. Be­liev­ing he was among friends only, and speak­ing in Ara­bic, he told them not to worry: the peace with Is­rael was like the truce the Prophet Muham­mad made with the tribe of Qu­raish at Hud­ab­biya — a truce he made while he was weak, and which he vi­o­lated, mas­sacring them, when he felt strong enough.

Yasser Arafat is gone, and Mah­moud Ab­bas is dif­fer­ent. Yet if Arafat could but wouldn’t, Ab­bas — who last week was ru­moured to be con­duct­ing se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Olmert — would but can’t. He does not carry the same weight in the eyes of his peo­ple, and with the loss of Gaza to Ha­mas, he no longer rep­re­sents all of his peo­ple any­way.

My weary con­clu­sion is that per­haps peace can be made be­tween states, not be­tween a state (Is­rael) and a state-in-for­ma­tion (Pales­tine). Fur­ther­more, with the cur­rent trends among the Pales­tini­ans, one won­ders if they will have a state in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

The only hope I see is with Egypt and Jor­dan as­sum­ing greater re­spon­si­bil­ity. Sooner or later, Egypt will have to stop pre­tend­ing that Gaza is an Is­raeli prob­lem. Hav­ing a strong­hold of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood right at its doorstep is not some­thing Egypt would be able to ig­nore for long. And the last thing Jor­dan needs is an un­sta­ble Pales­tinian en­tity on its west­ern side, desta­bil­is­ing its own large Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tion.

And what about us Is­raelis? We will need to ad­just to the fact that there will be no in­stant peace with the Pales­tini­ans, that we’re in for a long haul. What we will need is a lot of pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance. Yet look­ing at our long his­tory — as we read the Hag­gadah at the Seder ta­ble last week — we have no short­age of those. Uri Dromi, for­merly chief spokesman for the Rabin and Peres gov­ern­ments, is a colum­nist based in Jerusalem

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