Friday, June 27, 2008

Buying Time

The Jewish Week

It’s easy to be cynical about the latest flurry of Mideast peace moves, which includes indirect Israeli- Syrian talks, a cease-fire with Hamas that has already been broken, accelerated negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and a proposed new peace process with Lebanon.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, critics say, is simply trying to buy himself a few more weeks or months in office before the inevitable fall of his government under the crushing weight of scandals. There may be an element of truth in those accusations, but there may also be valid and important reasons for the diplomatic offensive. Israel is nearing a critical moment of decision on Iran. It may be that Jerusalem is seeking to quiet other fronts while it sharpens its focus on what it believes to be the greatest threat to Israel’s survival: Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

It is reasonably argued that a temporary cease-fire with Hamas will only enable the terrorists to rearm and retrain their forces. But Israel’s army may benefit from the pause even more as it absorbs the lessons of the second Lebanon war and drastically alters its fighting doctrine.

There are critics in places like Sderot who claim Israel is simply selling out to those who have rained terror on their heads, but for many in that traumatized population, a relief from the daily terror is hardly unwelcome. And just maybe, Israel’s current leaders have reason to believe real progress is possible on one or more fronts in a region that edges closer to a new major eruption every day. It’s easy to suggest confrontation and military action from a distant continent; the equation looks very different when it’s your sons and daughters who will be on the front lines, your children who could be the terrorists’ targets.

Do we believe the current flurry of diplomacy is completely unrelated to Olmert’s political woes? No. And only the foolish and naïve are optimistic when it comes to genuine Mideast peace in the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean diplomacy shouldn’t be pursued, new openings explored and adversaries tested to see if they are ready to become real partners.

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