As Israel's Ehud Olmert prepares to step down as prime minister, he's trying as best he can to burnish his legacy of peace-making with the Palestinians. A daunting exercise indeed. Because if truth be told, Olmert teamed up for the last several years with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in make-believe "peace negotiations" doomed to go nowhere. Now that the charade is about to end, Olmert insists he went the extra mile, but was stymied by Abbas who never intended to make peace. Abbas, not surprisingly, blames Olmert.
Yet, while they engaged in endless negotiating minuets, neither one of them paused for a serious reality check on the odds for any concrete breakthrough.
After all, Hamas effectively dealt a death-knell to a two-state solution by taking undisputed control of Gaza. Dancing to the tune of its patrons and masters in Tehran, Hamas does not believe in a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with the Jewish state. Hamas' laser-like fixation is elimination of Israel.
As if that weren't' an insurmountable problem, Abbas, still in control of the West Bank for the time being, has been unable and/or unwilling to move toward any realistic compromises on borders, Jerusalem, and refugees. Instead, Abbas keeps glorifying suicide bombers, pumping up anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian Authority media and schools, and refusing to budge from his insistence on granting 4.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants an absolute "right of return" to what is now Israel.
On Jerusalem, Abbas demands nothing short of Palestinian sovereignty over the entire Old City with its Jewish, Christian and Muslim sacred shrines. The last time the Old City came under Arab rule -- from 1949 to 1967 when Jordan occupied it -- Jews were ethnically cleansed from the Old City, where they had been in the majority since the mid-19th Century, and were barred from praying at the Western Wall -- Judaism's holiest site.
Abbas' strategy envisions two states -- but both Palestinian. What Hamas seeks to achieve by terror, Abbas hopes to get by overwhelming Israel demographically.
For his part, Olmert kept offering a spate of concessions, including 93 to 95 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza -- plus a land corridor linking the two territories which effectively would have cut Israel into two pieces. Even so, Olmert and his foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who spent many hours and days to keep the talks moving, had to keep specifics close to their vests and fudge on secret concessions. Else, some of their coalition partners might have bolted and left Olmert without a Knesset majority to govern.
Now, as he readies to relinquish his premiership, Olmert told his cabinet that, gosh, he came ever so close to concluding a peace deal if only a weak and gutless Abbas hadn't made such an outcome impossible. Abbas immediately replied in kind, charging that Olmert never submitted a serious proposal.
As Pagliacci informs the audience before the final curtain: This comedy is now finished.
But leave it to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to pick up where Condi Rice, Olmert and Abbas left off. As was said of France's Bourbon monarchs, they have learned nothing and forgotten everything. Heedless of the tragi-comic precedent set by Olmert and Abbas, Team Obama is rushing ahead to reprise the same diplomatic dance -- at least as long as Abbas, already dethroned in Gaza, doesn't get another boot from Hamas and loses the West Bank as well.
Even then, the usual suspects -- the State Department, European chanceries, the UN and the Kremlin -- probably would still insist on clinging to a "peace process" that has been a sham for over a decade.
So the curtain is about to go up on the same show with a new American and Israeli cast. But rest assured that to oblige Obama and Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu will show himself as consummate a performer, if not more so, as Olmert and Livni.
This "commedia" isn't over, after all.