Monday, October 02, 2006

Is Israel a partner?

By Uzi Benziman

In the 1967 war, Jordan's King Hussein was considered an enemy of the state of Israel. In the 1973 war, Hussein refrained from joining the combined assault of Egypt and Syria, and there are those who say that he even warned Israel about it. Twenty-one years later, Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel: The enemy of 1967 and covert ally of 1973 became an overt friend.

When official Israel claims to have no partners with which to establish peace, the development of the relationship with King Hussein should be placed in the public eye. The "no partner" status is reversible, and Israel can have a significant influence on its expiration date. Egypt's President Anwar Sadat was not considered a partner in '73, and earned the status of very desired guest in '77.

Government spokesmen in Jerusalem explain in retrospect why Sadat does not resemble Hafez or Bashar Assad, why Hussein does not resemble Yasser Arafat, why the hostile situation that Israel had with Egypt and with Jordan had the potential to change while the relationship with the Palestinians is fated to be eternally drenched in blood and Syria will remain an enemy forever. These explanations, however, ignore the Israeli side of the equation: The desire to hold onto the West Bank and the Golan Heights has a critical impact on the development of the conflict.

A state that seeks peace with its enemies must, before anything else, change its mental approach to them so that it views them as potential partners. If the enemy is a priori perceived as a devil whose hatred cannot be overcome, then the chances of reaching an understanding with him are null. If the Syrian government and the Palestinian Authority appear to be eternal enemies as a matter of principle, then any attempt to initiate a dialogue with them is a lost cause. In addition, the likelihood of the decision makers in Jerusalem launching such an initiative is slim; they have closed themselves off from such a possibility by virtue of the rigidity of their approach to the leaders in Damascus and Ramallah.

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