When people agree, they do not need politicians. One of the things that politicians do is to arrange deals when there are disagreements.
The easy way is to compromise. But what happens when the parties are not inclined?
Then it is time for deceptions. These include empty promises, commitments not intended to be kept, posturing as if everything is all right, acting as if there will be a deal when it is pretty sure that they won't be.
Often it requires smoke and mirrors, or the geometry involved in squaring a circle.
The purpose is to save face for those who know
Politics is a noble craft. If it is done well, it comprises the most civilized way to handle disputes. It is better than one on one dueling, and far better than warfare.
A case in point is what has been happening, and what I hope will continue between officials of Israel and the Palestine National Authority.
As I read the news, there is no deal close, or likely. Palestinians cannot ratchet down from the right of refugees to return to homes they left 60 years ago, as well as what they call the 1967 border of Palestine, the dismantling of Jewish settlements over that line, the dismantling of the barricade Israel is building to keep evil out of the country, and permanent Muslim control of what the Jews call the Temple Mount.
Some think the Palestinians are exaggerating for the sake of bargaining. Maybe. But maybe not. Some see more flexibility when they listen to Palestinians in Hebrew or English than when the same people speak in Arabic.
There is a concern that if Palestinian leaders cannot renounce slogans they have been repeating, and teaching in their schools for generations.
It can't be fun being tossed from the roof of a tall building, as happened to one of the moderate Palestinians in Gaza.
There are signs that majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis want to avoid violence.
Smoke and mirrors is what I see in play over the last few years, and what I see as the greatest hope for the time being.
What do I mean by the time being?
As long as it takes.
Both sides had agreed that they were negotiating toward a two-state solution, but they did not get anywhere. Israelis offered the equivalent of almost all of the territory the Palestinians say they held prior to the 1967 war. It was actually the Jordanians in charge of the West Bank prior to 1967, and Egypt in Gaza, but Israelis are willing to overlook those details. In exchange for land over that line that it will keep, Israel has offered other land. The Palestinians have offered a cessation of violence, but not much else that I can see.
There remains the problem of Hamas. Israel has been helping itself and helping the Fatah regime of the West Bank by going into the West Bank frequently, and taking away or otherwise neutralizing Hamas personnel seen as a threat to both Israel and Fatah.
Without this, it is doubtful that Fatah would survive. If Hamas captures the West Bank, and uses it against Israel like it has used Gaza, the West Bank may experience something like Gaza.
Fatah cannot thank Israel in public for keeping it alive, but we can live without that.
The new government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have threatened this arrangement by saying that the Palestinians are not ready for a state; that it would be better to talk about something else.
They've broken the mirror and stopped the smoke.
President Barack Obama and other world figures have said that Israel and Palestine must work toward a two-state solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (whose term has expired, but let's not bother about that detail) has said that he will not negotiate with Israel unless its government agrees to a two-state solution.
How to fix the mirror and produce enough smoke to keep it cloudy?
Surely there is language that will do it.
Netanyahu has already said that he will continue working toward a peaceful solution.
Those who know Netanyahu say that he is flexible. Some say that he is so flexible that he adopts the view of the last person who speaks with him.
For some years now, it has been the task of the United States President to make Israel an offer it cannot refuse. Sometimes it looks like a carrot, sometimes a stick.
Netanyahu has a good point about the Palestinians. Even without the Hamas-Gaza problem, they have not shown a capacity to use the aid they have receive to provide decent services to their people. Taking account of the Gaza-Hamas problem, they are a long way from a state that Israel or many other governments would recognize.
If Obama and others talk as tough with the Palestinians as with Israel, it might be possible to keep this going.
With respect to the goal of a Palestinian state, it is likely that the talks will go nowhere. But that is better than nothing.
I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem