I initially greeted with joy and optimism the news that the newest of our three serving deputy prime ministers is going to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. But when I gave it some more thought, I realized that after months of practically no communication between the Israeli government and the PA, this really doesn’t mark a substantial step toward the peace-making road.
It goes without saying that we’ve all been here before. Although this time I am particularly impressed with Shaul Mofaz, since his willingness to go to Ramallah demonstrates just how much he wants the dialogue to recommence, the noises emanating from the PA are discouraging. Only a few days ago, Abbas himself pronounced the process clinically dead. Of course, if that is the case it is he who killed it.
It’s clear that no matter how well-intentioned Mofaz is in dealing with Abbas, it just isn’t going to be enough; we’ve been here many times before.
The negotiations ended years ago; we know what we can give, and we’ve reached our limit in terms of what we can offer without destroying our own country. The talks between Israelis and Palestinians were once an incredible spectacle to behold; now they’re just a spectacle.
Mofaz and Abbas will have a little chat, then they’ll walk out and say something positive about one another and the chances for peace, while noting that this is a positive first step on the road back to negotiations. Of course these chances will amount to nothing, since Israel’s most generous offer can’t meet the current Palestinian minimum demands, and we have nowhere else to go.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. If Abbas won’t make peace, there are others out there who will.
A recent poll conducted by Haaretz found that (unsurprisingly) Marwan Barghouti is by far the most popular Palestinian leader around today, both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Barghouti is currently in prison for orchestrating attacks on Israelis during the second intifada. Arguably the most senior Palestinian dissident commander in Israel’s custody, he has both street cred and a broad-based appeal.
It should be stressed that although he was convicted of “only” five counts of murder, Barghouti was complicit in a devastating range of attacks. But he has since campaigned from his prison cell for peace in exchange for a Palestinian state, stating time and again his readiness to see this happen. The difference between him and others is that he has the power to make it so — power that stretches beyond party lines to Hamas.
The harsh fact of the matter is that you don’t make peace with your friends, but with your enemies. We have the choice as to whether to look backward or forward. Looking back, we can see that Barghouti is a murderer; looking forward, it becomes clear that he is currently the only man alive who has both the power and the inclination to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
We also have the choice between vengeance and reconciliation. The former will ensure that we will be burying more and more of our dead; the latter harbors the promise of a better life for us all.
Throwing Barghouti back into the mix would create an earthquake in Palestinian politics. A free Barghouti would serve, at the very least, to light a fire under Abbas and force his hand with regards to negotiating with Israel. Even better would be if his release would cost Abbas the presidency of the PA.
The real question is, can we be big enough to forgive the crimes of the past in order to build a better future for ourselves and for our people?