One of the high points at which the drama could have turned into a farce within seconds occurred nine years ago at the Wye Plantation summit. After exhausting and debilitating efforts, we received from Yasser Arafat a promise (even if half-hearted and unwilling) to delete from the Palestinian Charter the sections calling for the destruction of Israel.
Upon leaving the conference room, we saw one of the closest advisers of President Bill Clinton and proudly told him about our achievement.
"Are you out of your minds?" he shouted. "He's going to be killed because of that. He is too weak for dramatic steps like that. First he has to be strengthened!"
I recalled this tragic-comic story a few days ago as I was talking with a player from the international elements engaged in building up the destroyed Palestinian economy. When I asked him why they weren't making aid to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) contingent on stopping the anti-Israeli incitement on the official television channel and in the Palestinian education system, he replied, "Abu Mazen is so weak, and this is not a popular step. First of all, it is necessary to strengthen him and afterward it will be possible to demand something of him."
I have never understood this strange reasoning: First strengthen the weak leader, by giving legitimization to anti-Israeli actions that he allows (or encourages, and sometimes even operates) and then, once the anti-Israeli positions have made him popular, expect that he will suddenly change his spots and lead his people determinedly toward the desired peace.
This distorted approach has become a kind of sacred cow. "We must strengthen Abu Mazen," say Israel's leaders as a kind of mantra. It is of no importance that along the way they are educating another generation of Palestinians to hatred, violence and the aspiration to destroy Israel. It is of no importance that the way to the strengthening is the diametric opposite of peace and dialogue. The main thing is that we are strengthening Abu Mazen.
The old argument of President Shimon Peres and Meretz MK Yossi Beilin and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on "with whom to make peace, a strong leader or a weak leader" is no longer relevant. A look back over the years since the Oslo Accords shows clearly that the direction in which Palestinian society has marched is not the direction of peace. It was all in all just a hudna (truce) before another intifada. And when the society is becoming more extreme, what difference is it to us if the leader is strong or weak?
It is true that to carry out courageous reforms and educate the people to peace, a strong and bold leader is needed. Leaders like that, who understand the need for education toward peace and reforms, do exist -- but not in the Muqata in Ramallah. These are people who are not afraid to challenge the tyranny of the weak leader and who believe in building a civil society as a necessary foundation for any progress on the road to peace.
As chairman of the Institute for Strategic Studies, I meet them quite frequently. It is true that they are weak, but for one reason only: We ourselves are weakening them by giving unreserved support to "moderate" tyrants. The justification that support for these troublemakers weakens the only element that is capable of stopping Hamas doesn't hold water: It is precisely the strengthening of an antidemocratic regime and the absence of an alternative that are pushing the public into the arms of fundamentalists, into the arms of Hamas.
Annapolis is doomed to failure not because we or the Palestinians have not made enough concessions -- it is doomed to failure because it is built on distorted reasoning to the effect that it is possible to move ahead and make a deal with some leader and totally ignore what is really happening in Palestinian society. In this, to our regret, Annapolis has become another tragic-farcical Middle Eastern scene.
This article originally appeared in Haaretz.