The Show Needn't Go On

This week the Israeli government “announced “:,7340,L-3803981,00.htmlit will resume negotiations with Syria without preconditions, and the Syrians “responded in kind”:,7340,L-3803862,00.html.
Peace talks, if they ever actually start, aren’t going anywhere, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows it. He’s going through the motions so Western diplomats don’t throw him and his country out in the cold. Syria’s Bashar Assad knows it too. He’s going through the motions so that he and his country can come in from the cold.
It has been years since I spoke to a single person in the Middle East who thinks the Arab-Israeli conflict will be resolved any time soon. Last time I visited Jerusalem with a half-dozen American colleagues, Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh bluntly told us to stop asking “What’s the solution?”
“I don’t see a real peace emerging over here,” “he said”: “We should stop talking about it.”
Some Westerners, though, can’t stop talking about it and get bent out of shape when they hear comments like Toameh’s from either side. As Evelyn Gordon “pointed out”: here a few days ago, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner can’t see the difference between Israeli disillusionment about the prospects for peace and an abandonment of the desire for peace in the abstract.
“What really hurts me,” Kouchner said, “and this shocks us, is that before there used to be a great peace movement in Israel. … It seems to me, and I hope that I am completely wrong, that this desire has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it.”
It’s not that people over there no longer want it. They’ve learned the hard way, repeatedly, that the Arab-Israeli conflict is no more stoppable right now than are plate tectonics.
Because supposedly right-thinking Westerners are appalled, Israel and Syria will pretend to hold talks while the more seasoned Western diplomats will pretend the talks stand a chance. It’s like the old Russian joke about Communism: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”
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