Natasha Mozgovaya
Haaretz (Book Review)
January 12, 2012 - 1:00am

The President of the United States, haunted by troubles home and abroad, finally decides to forge a breakthrough on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - at any price. He separately summons Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and presents them with an ultimatum: for Israel, lack of agreement means no more aid and no more vetoes at the UN Security Council.

In "The President's Ultimatum," the first novel penned by the former Citicorp executive John Cavaiuolo - who writes under the pen name John Cavi - reality is mixed with fiction, but many characters are easily recognizable. The 43rd U.S. President is Gerald W. Burke, there is an Israeli prime minister called "Ehud Colmert," a right-wing leader called Bibi Nathane, and Palestinian leaders Habbas and Qurei. Ariel Sharon goes by his own name, and his reaction to the ultimatum is not at all positive. He tries to buy time, says he'll be ready when terror is defeated, complains about political strains and "Israeli people that wouldn't accept it." The President brushes aside all excuses and presses harder. Recalling their conversation, Burke thinks to himself: "Threatening Sharon with an embargo and a cessation of $8 billion dollars in aid was probably too harsh and perhaps counterproductive", adding later that, "the arrogant son of a bitch deserved to be humiliated."

President Burke is warned of the Congress and the pro-Israeli organizations; harsh reactions of Evangelicals and the Jewish community - and even of a possible assassination attempt. The rest is a quickly developing plot, focused less on the peace process and more on Al-Qaida, the Mossad, and numerous assassination attempts, some of them successful. The saddest point, however, is that even in this work of fiction, the historical agreement is soon jeopardized. Burke finishes his term with his Secretary of State Samantha Robins predicting "dragging feet" if Bibi Nathane will become Prime Minister, stating "we are back to square one."

Cavaiuolo worked on his book for eight years, including tough periods in which he underwent chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, after being diagnosed with a rare form of stage 4 lymphoma. At one point, his vision was so bad, he couldn't see the keyboard, and was going over the plot in his head.

He told Haaretz he has visited the Middle East, but not Israel, and as a student of history, he was always following the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His novel is based on books he read about the subject, newspaper articles, and lectures he attended. He is impressed with the Mossad, but he is "not optimistic at all" about the prospects of solving the conflict, "as long as the Israelis keep building settlements."

Cavaiuolo had his own miracle with the experimental treatment that cured him after he was given only several months to live. But he has no magic recipes to revive the peace process. Despite the dubious success of Gerry W. Burke's tough approach, Cavaiuolo thinks such an ultimatum could help.

"No president really had the guts to force Palestinians and Israelis to the table and tell them, this is how I want it to be resolved, or else. I think the presidents of the U.S. have been reluctant to do this because of political reasons. And their involvement was only exacerbating the situation. In the long run, the odds are against the Israelis, because of the higher birth rate of the Palestinians. If there will be no political solution, it can only end in a disaster. I don't believe young people in Palestine will be as passive as they are today if they'll be an overwhelming majority. If they'll start marching to borders will Israelis start shooting them all? If it had been resolved 20 years ago, there probably would have been prosperity in the region. The fact is the majority of the Israelis and the Palestinians want peace - it's the governments who polarize.

"There is lot of history behind the book - but it's really just my imagination," he adds.

Back to reality. On Tuesday, President Obama will host King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House to discuss the regional troubles and Jordan's initiative "in advancing our shared goal of a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians," as the White House put it. Cynics interpret this visit and the current initiative as follows: President Obama, burnt by an attempt to renew negotiations that went awry, outsourced peace attempts to Jordan (pretty much the way his administration preferred international cooperation on Libya, or the Arab League dealing with Syria). For obvious reasons Egypt couldn't act as intermediary this time - and the king of Jordan has his political reasons for assuming a more active role in the peace process, like proving, with Obama's support, his leadership in the turbulent region. One can not ignore, of course, the chemistry between the two leaders, notably absent in the relationship between the U.S. president and the current Israeli prime minister. In any case, all sides hold low expectations from these talks, with diplomats behind the scenes calling it "life support for a process in a coma."


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