Tel Aviv — “A new beginning.”
The post-Annapolis proclamation ran as the banner headline on Israel’s largest selling daily, Yediot Ahronot.
But on the sun-bathed morning after the Rothschild Coffee Spot — the café kiosk hub of Tel Aviv’s most lively boulevard — few chose to let the first renewal of peace talks in seven years distract them from their morning java.
Though the café attracts a smattering of the young and hip Israeli bourgeois —voters usually squarely in the peace camp — the prevailing sentiment regarding Ehud Olmert’s peace message to the U.S., the Palestinians and most of the members of the Arab League was one of apathy.
“This is the righteous left,” explained Ofri Arbel, a 33-year-old copywriter who said she didn’t watch the speech broadcasts. “I don’t think anything will come of this. It’s not coming from the right place. [Annapolis] is to cover Olmert’s investigations. It’s like wagging the dog.”
As for Israel’s peace partner, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Arbel said that while he represented the desire of “95 percent” of Palestinians to achieve the same coexistence that the Israelis want, the leader lacks charisma to sell an agreement. “The radicals hold sway in the territories. Not the Palestinian Authority,” she said. “Arafat was our best chance to make a peace deal because he was an icon. They need a leader who is going to clean house.”
But ironically, there were few other complaints about the Palestinian president — a leader who was generally seen as a figure ready to make historic compromises with Israel. Instead, most of café-goers’ suspicion surrounding the renewed peace process was focused on Olmert, a leader who has lost the confidence of most of the public.
“As long as Olmert is prime minister, there won’t be any talks on anything; he won’t do anything,” said Dror Dotan, a 37-year-old commercial photographer. “What do I want to see happen? To leave the territories, but not with such a corrupt guy in power,” he said cynically. “Until he gets a couple of thousand of dollars out of it, nothing will happen.”
Rolling a cigarette while poring over the results from the European soccer Champion’s League, he explained why he hadn’t seen any news of the Annapolis (“I don’t even know what state it’s in”) talks. “There’s nothing about it in sports and that’s what I read. It seems like an idiotic PR stunt and that’s all.”
Michal Chetrit, a 45-year-old high-tech administrative manager, read the business section instead of the political news. And although she called herself a backer for the dovish Labor Party, she wouldn’t jump on the peace bandwagon.
“My faith in the government has been shaken in recent years by the Lebanon war,” Chetrit said. “I don’t believe in the clique of Bush and Olmert. The chance something will happen is minimal, and that’s the sad truth of the country we live in.”
And yet there was one patron who found a bright spot in the U.S. hosted conference. While 35-year-old Gil Sasson said he was pessimistic about the failure of the sides to make any progress in talks and that speechmaking should be saved for the agreement-signing ceremony, the very fact that the “process” has been resuscitated is a cause for optimism.
“It’s a good thing from a public relations point of view to make clear who opposes peace in the Middle East: it’s the Israeli crazies and the Arab crazies, he said. “Even if you start a peace process — there have been processes in the Middle East that have stretched two to three political generations — someone else might finish it.”