Arad, where I live, is a small, out-of-the-way town in the Negev desert, in southern Israel. There are Jews and Arabs living here, but so far it has been surprisingly quiet. Not very quiet for myself though, as I happen to be the town's famous "leftist" or "Arab-lover." It was almost natural that as I walked down the local mall near the main square yesterday, some strangers were angrily shouting at me: "You are to blame," or "Do you still trust your Arabs?" In particular the voices came from some of the patrons of a street cafe, so I sat myself down, ready to listen.
There was an elderly man, rather gentle, with a musician's fingers, who said to me, "Look what you leftists have done to Israel by making the Oslo agreements with Arafat seven years ago. You gave him land for a promise. For a piece of paper. He committed himself to renouncing violence and to sorting out future differences through negotiations. But why should he renounce violence when violence always yields him a dividend? Each time there is a burst of Palestinian violence the whole world puts pressure on Israel to make more concessions. You yourself," he said, "advised Mr. Peres to travel all over the world to collect billions of dollars for the Palestinian Authority. With this money they purchased the weapons and the bullets which they are now shooting at us."
An attractive woman of about 40, with a slight Russian accent, intervened, saying, "Like yourself, I voted for Ehud Barak in the last elections because I want peace. I still want peace, but next time I will vote for Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Sharon. The history of recent years tells us that the Arabs have made an honorable agreement with the right-wing Mr. Begin, with the hard-line Mr. Shamir and with the extremist Mr. Netanyahu, whereas doves such as Rabin, Peres and Barak--all they get from the Arabs are the car bombs, the exploding buses and the lynchings."
There was a third voice, young, extremely polite, seemingly an Oriental Jew, who smiled at me and said, "Let's not waste our time. This conference in Egypt is totally useless. Arafat can no longer control the fundamentalist frenzy of violence which he himself perpetrated, whereas Barak can no longer negotiate because the Israeli Jews have lost confidence in his peace policy. Arafat and Barak may not know it, but they are both finished."
I asked, "So what is going to happen?"
From the four corners of the coffee shop people said, More fighting, more violence, more bloodshed. One of them even added, "And you are also finished, Mr. Oz. We will never listen to you again if you advocate a compromise with the Palestinians."
I said, "And what will happen if we don't compromise?"
A woman said, "There will be more violence."
I said, "And what after the further violence?"
Everybody said, "Finally there will be an agreement."
"Between whom and whom?"
"Between Israel and a Palestinian state, of course."
I just nodded. I was going to pay for my coffee and go. But those people refused to let me pay for my coffee. They paid for me. They insisted.
©Amos Oz 2000.