Harta Barta: Maariv’s defense analyst on the emptiness of the peace “process”
More opinion and analysis by Ofer Shelah here.
Op-ed, Ofer Shelah, Maariv, January 5 2010
What is left of the year 2000, the last year in which there were negotiations with the Palestinians? The prevailing narrative of “we have no partner;” the picture of Ehud Barak and Arafat grappling at the entrance to a cabin in Camp David and one casual remark by Mohammed Dahlan who was caught by reporters on his way to the bathroom in Taba. What’s going on? the reporters asked, and Dahlan summarized with an expression that every Israeli knows: harta barta [drivel, empty talk].
Harta barta. That, as one man, is what all the state leaders whose word has any weight on the negotiations with the Palestinians at this time think. Some of them say it openly: Ehud Barak has long since said “no peace before 2028,” Bugi Yaalon said “not in our generation,” and for Avigdor Lieberman, even those dates are too soon. The prime minister talks about an “economic peace” that will be built from the bottom up, in other words, Israel will help improve the private situation of Palestinians, but not realize their national aspirations.
Harta barta. That’s also what the security organizations directors will say when they are called into the meeting rooms, and not in order to help the decision-makers—in the last 20 years Rabin, Barak and Sharon decided on these matters contrary to the views of the security organization directors—but in order to give ostensibly professional cover to the leaders’ decision. There is no major voice in IDF Intelligence, in the GSS or in the Mossad who believes in the possibility of reaching a stable arrangement with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future. Naturally, like in the aforementioned cases, if a leader is found who decides the opposite, the professionals will fall into line, as they did in the case of Oslo and disengagement.
Harta barta. That’s what the Israeli and Palestinian peoples think. Ever since everything blew up in the summer of 2000, the situation in public opinion polls has remained steady. A majority of about two thirds of Israelis and of Palestinians knows what the final arrangement will be like, if it ever happens: a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with symbolic land swaps, the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem with a symbolic division of sovereignty in the holy places, a Palestinian concession on the practical return of refugees without a declaration about giving up the right of return. The same majority supports such an arrangement if it puts an end to the conflict—and the exact same majority does not believe that this will happen in its lifetime. In the last poll released by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, with the participation of Israeli figures, 66% of Israelis and 66% of Palestinians said that this would not happen in the next five years.
So what’s all this fuss about imminent negotiations with the Palestinians, the prime minister’s talk about decisions about to be made, the leaks about what Netanyahu agreed to and what he didn’t? Harta barta. In Washington sits an administration that began its term with the notion that it could compel both sides, mainly the Israeli side, to return to negotiations. Netanyahu’s approach to the matter was to wait until Obama got over this. And then, inevitably, he did: the American president has other problems, he is working on an historic achievement on a health reform, while veterans of previous negotiations and columnists advise him to remove his hands from the bleeding mud of the Middle East. The day is not far off when he too will be persuaded of Dahlan’s truth.
When any of the government leaders are asked why, therefore, make a pretense of talking, they shrug their shoulders and talk about tactics. “The process must be maintained,” and “we have to provide hope,” mainly to look good in Washington. About the assumption that ultimately the ongoing frustration will lead to another round of violence, they respond with a shrug of the shoulders: in any case, among the government and the public on both sides, the majority views events in terms of an almost eternal conflict, and all that is left is to control when it blows up. And only the people who die in the next five years and afterwards, it is only for them that this whole business is more than harta barta.