Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 18, 2012 - 12:00am

Once every few years, usually before the elections, a story of this kind comes out. An Israeli statesman was a hairbreadth away from achieving peace. Had he only had two months more, even two weeks more, the great peace would have been signed, forever.

Shimon Peres almost achieved peace with the London Agreement; Ehud Barak almost did so at Camp David; Ehud Olmert almost had it with Mahmoud Abbas, and with Bashar Assad too. Even Tzipi Livni came close with Ahmed Qureia, and the Oslo agreement was of course almost peace.

The right wing is "enraged" at the story as usual; as far as it is concerned, reaching an agreement, any agreement, is obscene. Meanwhile, the almost-statesmen and their court pundits recount the almost-success of the almost-peace, until the denial comes and yet another almost-peace story dies a natural death.

The latest in this genre is that Benjamin Netanyahu almost achieved peace with Syria. The ritual repeated itself - leak, praise, rage and denial. My colleague Ari Shavit wrote here this week that Netanyahu "conducted a complex negotiating process with Syrian President Bashar Assad - wisely, courageously and creatively" ("In praise of Netanyahu," October 15 ). This took place after it transpired that "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had led Netanyahu on."

But this peace-puff, too, soon breathed its last: Netanyahu hastened to deny it. He is not a man to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which in plain English means that he is not a man to achieve peace with Syria.

The "complex" negotiating process that he conducted "courageously" and "creatively" led to nothing. This time too, of course, it was because of the Arabs, namely the Arab Spring. But all this is dwarfed by his achievements. Netanyahu "achieved successes that no prime minister before him achieved," Shavit wrote. He went that far.

Let's put aside the (unknown ) successes, the (concealed ) creativity, the (hidden ) courage, and Abbas, who led Netanyahu on (! ). We won't delve into the miraculous. But even those not privy to the peace negotiations' best-kept secrets, who cannot properly evaluate the spreading wings of the Divine Presence, who makes peace in His heavens and the Prime Minister's Office, cannot but be amazed by the event's recurrence.

There are outstanding statesmen in Jerusalem - Netanyahu is of course the most outstanding and courageous - who want to make peace so much. It's only the circumstances, or time, or terror, or the Arabs, or the spring - whatever comes first - that prevents them from doing so at the very last moment.

But the bitter truth is, there hasn't been a statesman in Jerusalem yet who really wanted to make peace. The day an Israeli statesman wants to put an end to all Israel's occupations, he will find, if it is not too late, that achieving peace is simpler than it seems. Sincere desire and courage will suffice. All the rest will come almost by itself.

Endless detailed peace plans, mountains of papers, are gathering dust, from the Rogers Plan to the Arab Peace Initiative. They all have the same goal - ending the occupation. They all speak the same language. All they need is the intention to carry them out. But that is what is missing, always missing.

Now Netanyahu is also joining the national pantheon of almost-peacemakers, to the cheers of his foolish fans. Maybe he truly was the greatest of them all, but what does it matter if he achieved nothing? While they were almost achieving peace, these peace-makers - every last one of them - built the settlements, strengthened the occupation, tightened its grip. Every now and then, they waged another unnecessary nefarious war, and they always found excuses for why peace should be achieved, but not now.

Once it was terrorism, then Yasser Arafat, then Mahmoud Abbas, then Hamas and finally the Arab Spring and Bashar Assad. In this garden of the nation's greatest leaders, nothing grows, nor could anything grow there. The most peace-loving state in the world, whose people greet each other with shalom, "peace," as a matter of routine, believes the maker of peace is only in heaven, not in Jerusalem.


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