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

By Uri Dromi, April 25, 2008

Negotiations between Abbas and Olmert are futile

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 sadat, hitherto the biggest enemy of Israel, coming to make peace with the Jewish state.

Sadat’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 — sadat 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 sadat 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

Last updated: 4:14pm, May 13 2008