29 March 2007

A little bit of drama

And if there's one lesson the world can learn from Northern Ireland, it's that a little bit of human drama and symbolism goes a long way.
This sentence closes a remarkable article by Jonathan Freedland. The article broaches an idea that has been in the air for quite a while already, and its main motif is simple: let an important Arab leader repeat the Anwar Sadat outstanding act of personal and political bravery and come to Jerusalem with an emotional appeal to Israeli public, thus bypassing the indecisive and weak Olmert and creating a sweeping wave of public support for negotiations.

After all, to start the negotiations is the most important thing, and both sides may soften their stance on the issues that currently seem unsolvable (I am outguessing Jonathan here, since he is not saying it directly).

So what about it? First of all, a remark about the lesson we can learn from Northern Ireland: the one Jonathan has mentioned above is not the only one. There are two (at least) additional lessons:
  1. It took about 400 (four hundred) years since 1606, when the first Scottish Protestant settlers were 'planted' in the Ards peninsula area of Ulster, to get to the current state of affairs in Northern Ireland.
  2. And no less important: the colonial politics of military conquest and settlement won. The settlers have finally gained recognition. After 400 years of strife.
Seems a far cry from the situation in the Middle East, doesn't it?

But of course, the mixed message from the Arab League could be read by any person in any way he/she wishes to interpret it:
Arab leaders gather in the Saudi capital of Riyadh today, swearing they will never amend their five-year-old land-for-peace offer to Israel.

But while the communiqué that the Arab League will issue at the end of their two-day meeting is expected to be written in unyielding language, many believe that the 22-nation group is nonetheless getting ready to bargain quietly.
There is a room for any interpretation and any expectation. The big question is: whether the people of Israel, tired as we are by many years of double tongued messages from the other side, should count on that vague "readiness to bargain"?

After all, that eventual peace treaty is to be signed not by a Saudi prince or by the Arab League, but by recalcitrant Hamas folks, who are not even trying to hide their piecemeal approach to elimination of Israel. An excellent in its clarity expression of the current Palestinian government stance was already helpfully provided:
The spokesman for Hamas in the Palestinian parliament, Salah al-Bardawil, told Haaretz, "we will not agree to recognition of Israel or peace with it [as it appears in the initiative]. We have no problem with the part of the initiative that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and the right of refugees to return."
It could hardly be made clearer, can it? And what kind of solution does Jonathan offer for the crucial issue of the right of return?
Israel insists that any such right would be impossible to implement, spelling the demographic end of the country as a Jewish national home: Palestinians should instead return to the proposed Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. If Riyadh sees no return to the original language, Israel will refuse to engage with it.
In other word - nothing. This is the dead end, and the whole good-intentioned article is undone by this central problem. And how does the author cope with the issue? Simply by ignoring it and leading instead to a dramatic crescendo at the end of the article:
It's a good idea, for it would call Israel's bluff. The country always says it wants peace; now the sincerity of that stance would be tested. If the language on refugees and borders were loosened, thereby denying Olmert a reason to say no, all the better.
But neither the language on refugees nor the language on the borders will be loosened. And no Israeli leader - on the left or (especially) on the right will dare to enter negotiations where the impossible conditions are stated in such a clear and destructive way in advance.

I dare Jonathan to imagine a situation where Israel offers the Arab League to start negotiations, stating in advance that it is not to return any occupied land and to apply to Arab League the same approach he has taken to Israel (e.g. a dramatic visit of Olmert in Riyadh or some other theatrical gesture). I can guess what his response will be.

So what is left? Just a bit of drama, I am afraid.

Meanwhile, in related news:
Also Wednesday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired seven Qassam rockets at Israel, Israel Radio reported. Two of the rockets landed in open areas near Ashkelon. No injuries were reported in either incident.

***