Once again, no one to talk to

Uzi Benziman


Tamuz 7, 5766

Last Thursday, the state of Israel provided resounding proof for the old argument that it has no partner for dialogue among the Palestinian leaders: It arrested a significant number of them and physically removed them from office. From now on, there can be no doubt that Israel has no one to talk to in Ramallah. And if the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit is not resolved, then in the near future, the Gazan half of the Palestinian leadership will be unavailable as well. According to the Israeli plan, it is destined for targeted assassination.

Yasser Arafat was the first Palestinian leader with whom dialogue was impossible. He was the grandfather of impurity, the devil whose entire raison d'etre was to destroy the state of Israel. Even after gaining recognition as a result of the Oslo Accords, he continued to be depicted as a nefarious plotter whose handshake concealed a dagger. The official Israeli version, which was based on credible intelligence work and learned personality analysis, was that Arafat had not given up his intention to throw the Israelis into the sea. After the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000, he was said to be responsible for carefully readying Palestinian terror organizations for the Al-Aqsa Intifada. When the intifada broke out, it reconfirmed the old saying that there is no one to talk to on the Palestinian side and that the leader of the Palestinian people was nothing but a sly, violent thug who temporarily impersonated a statesman.

Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, was labeled a helpless weakling. Israeli intelligence conceded that his intentions were good but said he was powerless. Once again, proof that Israel had no partner in dialogue. Ismail Haniyeh, who was elected prime minister in an election which Israel agreed to, was considered a leper who must be shunned. Now even he is being portrayed as a puppet whose strings are being pulled by arch-terrorist Khaled Meshal, who Israeli intelligence believes can make things happen in the Palestinian Authority with a single word. Once more, no one to talk to.

Even if this is true, and Israel is (as Ehud Barak has said) a villa in a jungle filled with predatory animals, it is not exempt from asking itself whether its best chance of survival lies in not recognizing its neighbors, in alienating itself from them and in humiliating them. The day is coming when the international community, and some Israelis too, ask themselves (and the government) whether the claim that all Palestinian leaders are unfit for dialogue is logical, effective and credible. Is this attitude not also a self-fulfilling prophecy on Israel's part, the fruits of prejudice, self-righteousness and perhaps hidden intentions? How does the government hope to create a stable relationship with the Palestinians if it negates the legitimacy of all of its leaders and denies the authority of the Palestinian people to sovereign rule led by its elected representatives?

The arrest of public figures in Hamas is intended to provide Israel with a bargaining chip vis-a-vis Gilad Shalit's kidnappers. So that Israel itself will not be seen as a state that takes hostages, the arrests are justified on the grounds that Hamas is a terror organization, but everyone knows that in the jungle sometimes one is dragged into behaving like one's neighbors. Still, the residents of the villa would be well advised to look ahead: If circumstances indeed lead Israel into imprisoning or killing the current Palestinian leadership, will this give rise to a more comfortable dialogue partner? Will the gross humiliation of the Palestinian leadership make him more conciliatory? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hopes that his power-drunk approach will prove effective in the long run: Its purpose is to remove abduction from the Palestinian toolbox. He could be proven wrong: In the long run, Olmert's policy could also make the Palestinians' more stubborn and unified and reinforce their dreams of revenge.