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Peace Offensive

In Middle Eastern wars, the United Nations is almost always hectoring Israel for being reluctant to seek peace. So it was a stunner when Terje Rød-Larsen--U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's "special coordinator" in the occupied territories, Kofi Annan's "personal representative" to Yasir Arafat, Ban Ki-moon's "special representative" for overseeing the cease-fire agreement ending the second Lebanon war, and in his next posting "envoy to the personal representative of the special coordinator for planetary salvation"--lambasted Israel for its recent negotiations with Syria: "Israel has given Syria a huge gift, without thus far receiving anything in return."

Israel, it seems, is in a chatty mood these days. It is cutting deals with Hamas and prepared to talk with Lebanon (an imaginary country, really) over the fate of Shebaa Farms--a worthless tract the size of a table cloth. Wiseacres say that Israel's foray into parleying with its enemies is to save Ehud Olmert's prime ministerial hide, sandblasted for the umpteenth time by accusations of unethical personal conduct with other folks' cash. This may or may not be a plausible explanation. But the Israeli public would by far rather forfeit (Arab) parts of Jerusalem than give up the Golan Heights, from which for two decades Syrian artillery fire had targeted the kibbutzim and moshavim of the Galilee. And killed not insignificant numbers of Israelis.

It's not only Rød-Larsen who's unhappy that Jerusalem is negotiating with Damascus; Condoleezza Rice is plenty upset, too. And, of course, anyone with a brain grasps that there are only two concessions worth getting from Bashar Assad, and these are: a) detaching Syria from Iran and b) lifting Syria's hold over Beirut, which, alas, was just solidified by Hezbollah's quickie civil war in the capital and in the Shouf mountains and then ratified without real alternative by a summit of factional leaders convening in Qatar.

Proposition A is tied to Proposition B in that Hezbollah is an instrument of Iran and its Revolutionary Guards. Tehran's road to Beirut is through Damascus. And the co-dependence of these two propositions also highlights the fantastical nature of all this peace talk: Iran must respect Syria's historic ambitions for direct political dominion over Lebanon, and Syria must allow the Shia of Iran the religious sweep of their doctrine across the region. Oh, yes, I mustn't forget: Since 2006, Iran has been on both of Israel's northern frontiers and, in a meaningful sense, in Gaza, too. This is not a happy circumstance. If there is any development that will deflect the powers from squeezing the ayatollahs into giving up their nuclear aspirations it is the prospect of Israel living quietly with borders on which Iran sits.

Maybe the Israelis think they will disentangle Syria from Iran. They cannot. The alliance fulfills Assad's Lebanese dreams, and the Golan Heights means almost nothing to the tyrant. Not since the Yom Kippur War has Syria made a move against the Golan. All its bloody mischief was funneled through Lebanon, and Lebanon was the name of his and his father's desire. Of course, Assad would take the Heights if Israel were silly enough to give it. But it would get nothing in return.

I am afraid that the false peace initiatives have already registered a "success" in Gaza. Hamas has announced and Israel has acquiesced to a cease-fire. I oppose this cease-fire for the same reason I opposed the wildly heralded one in Lebanon two summers ago. Then, of course, it was Rice who drove the international stampede that the IDF leave the country and that the ensuing disarmament and pacification of Hezbollah be assigned to unifil, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which has been both interim and a flop since 1978. The dreary results of that assignment can be judged by indisputable facts.

Under the terms of the new truce in the south, Israel will reopen the supply lines to and from Gaza: fuel, food, trade. (Medicines had always been getting through.) Hamas promises not to hurl rocketry and missiles into Israel and, of course, Israel will not retaliate if there is nothing to provoke retaliation. But an armistice lasts only until it is broken. Just wait. In the meantime, Egypt and Hamas have committed themselves to prevent and interdict smuggling of weapons and weapons-grade materiel from the Sinai to Gaza. This is a vocation that Cairo has never truly taken to, and the terrorist militias have always found ways to run contraband arms through tunnels in the sand. They are not likely to stop. Anybody want to bet?

As you already know, I'm no fan of Mohammed Abbas or his Fatah henchmen. But they have been designated as the Palestinian moderates. So, like Secretary Rice and in the awful circumstances that obtain, I suppose these are my favored Palestinians. They were also supposed to be Olmert's and Ehud Barak's. Therefore, it is often said that this new deal with Hamas cuts the legs from right under Abbas and chaverim. Well, I'm sorry, those legs were not at all sturdy. And, in the end, with American prodding, Abbas will negotiate the state that Hamas will inherit. That's the grim conclusion I have reached.

It used to be that Israel would move the heavens to rescue its kidnapped soldiers. This is one reason for the daring of so many of its fighting men. In recent years there has been an increase in kidnapping as a battle tactic by both the Palestinians and Hezbollah. Frankly, the Arabs play cruel games with these people (and their relatives), not saying whether they are dead or alive, even those who were captured decades ago. Are Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser still in this world? Nasrallah will not say. Gilad Shalit, it is believed, is still alive. Why was he not released in exchange for the last return of Palestinian prisoners? Liat Collins had a story, "Between life and the dead," in the Jerusalem Post some weeks ago detailing this manipulation of sorrow and fear. Dog tags and body parts are transmitted but not accurate information or men who are still breathing. Make peace with these people? This might be the only instance you hear me utter this: I wholeheartedly agree with the U.N. hack.

Martin Peretz is the editor-in-chief of The New Republic.

By Martin Peretz