Insanity, Albert Einstein supposedly said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that standard, the state of Israel has been stark raving mad for almost 60 years. Over and over again, Israel has tried to buy the love of its enemies by conceding territory. And over and over again, Israel has suffered the consequences of its foolhardy appeasement.
The latest incarnation of the tried-and-failed "land-for-peace" model comes from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert, whose approval rating clocked in at 3 percent in May 2007, proposes that Israel put everything -- including sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism -- on the table at upcoming negotiations in Annapolis, Md., with the Palestinian leadership. "All of the historical questions that overshadow the argument between us and the Palestinians are on the agenda. We will not evade any one of them," Olmert recently explained.
Olmert's desire for a comprehensive and final "peace" agreement is predictable; with his prime ministry resting on the thinnest of ice, Olmert hopes that an agreement will build support for him both domestically and abroad. His mindlessly quixotic quest for personal glory, however, further paves the way for the destruction of Israel. No matter what Olmert wants -- and in his desire for peace, he mirrors the desires of all Israelis -- it is the Muslim Middle East that dictates the outcome of negotiations. And the Muslim Middle East wants Israel wiped from the map, as it always has.
Israel's history has been a long pattern of concessions, followed by Arab violence, followed by Israeli defensive victory, followed by renewed concessions, followed by Arab violence and so on. This is not a Christine Amanpouresque "cycle of violence"; it is a decades-long series of catastrophic mistakes made by a tired and stupidly optimistic Israel. The Israeli public simply refuses to believe that the Muslim Middle East can remain so intransigently and violently opposed to Israel's existence. The Muslim Middle East is far more realistic: They rely on Israel's blind incredulity, exploit it to gain concessions, consolidate their gains and plan to outlast Israel.
The United States, meanwhile, suffers from the same delusion Israel does. The Palestinian people, the Bush administration believes, are essentially a moderate force. Only a failure of Palestinian and Israeli leadership has prevented peace from blooming, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; continued violence only will polarize the Palestinian population. "If we do not act now to show the Palestinians a way forward, others will show them a way forward," Rice stated last week at the Brookings Institution.
This is precisely backward. The Palestinians are already extreme. They always have been extreme. Their leadership only represents their radically violent desires. For the Bush administration, which surely recognizes the representative nature of democracy, to blatantly ignore the fact that the elected Palestinian government is the terrorist group Hamas -- and that their "moderate" foe is terrorist Yasser Arafat's hand-chosen successor, Mahmoud Abbas -- demonstrates the same hallucinatory desperation for peace that has characterized Israeli policy since the inception of the state.
Olmert and Rice are optimistic that perhaps a final peace agreement can be forged. "If we and the Palestinians act with determination, there is a chance that we can achieve real accomplishments," Olmert says.
"Of course when you negotiate you run into differences; that's why you negotiate," Rice explains.
Some differences can be ironed out through talk. The Arab-Israeli conflict is not one of them. No matter what Israel and the United States hope, the only final peace the Muslim Middle East seeks is a peace built on the ashes of the Jewish state.