This is written with a heavy heart, given the current situation. It is easy to lay blame on either side, and usually this finger pointing would follow established political rift lines. Yet even if one feels - as I do - that Likud Chairman Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount was ill-advised and certainly ill-timed, the ferocity of the Palestinian response forces one to reflect seriously on one aspect of the nature of Israeli-Arab relations.
This is the issue not of peace-making, but of reconciliation.
For many years most Israelis were ready to accommodate themselves to the cold nature of the peace with Egypt. Better a cold peace than a hot war - was the conventional argument, and the internal logic was irrefutable. Of course, in an ideal world things should have been different: but if for 20 years not one Israeli or Egyptian soldier was killed on the Israeli-Egyptian border, this was certainly preferable to the previous 20 years which had seen three wars and thousands upon thousands of causalities on both sides.
True, most Israelis were disturbed by the unwillingness of Egyptian society and its intellectual elite to open up to contacts with Israel.
For over twenty years, there were hardly any academic or literary contacts, no exchanges of writers, or friendly soccer matches between youth groups. Professional Egyptian associations were boycotting anything to do with Israel. The Israeli Academic Center, set up in Cairo in accordance with the peace treaty, remained isolated and virtually ostracized, and Egypt never set up its counterpart cultural center in Israel.
We all knew that it should have been otherwise; we also knew that school textbooks should have been modified - not to present the Israeli position, but at least to teach children and students a more balanced view of the origins and nature of the conflict. After all, this happened when France and Germany, or Germany and Poland, moved towards reconciliation after World War II or the falling of the Iron Curtain.
We all knew this, yet realizing the constraints of Arab politics and Arab leaders who made peace with Israel, it was also considered politically correct not to press the issue too much. The same applied to Jordan and to the Palestinian Authority. All Israeli governments, of the Left or the Right, followed this line, despite occasional rhetorical brandished here and there.
It is precisely now that the problem comes back to haunt us. When attitudes are not changed on the social level, when students continue to be taught and indoctrinated that Israel is the enemy and an illegitimate entity - not just an adversary with whom a difficult peace is being achieved or negotiated - then when things go wrong, all prejudices and enmities come out of the closet.
Anyone following official Palestinian and Arab language in the last few days has been subjected to the depressing realization that we have returned to the l970's and l980's.
One may grant the Palestinians justified anger about certain Israeli moves in the last few days and weeks. But the vitriolic language coming from some of the more respectable Palestinian leaders - Legislative Council member Hanan Ashrawi and Economic Planning Minister Nabil Sha'at for example - suggests that Oslo has not really changed their basic view about Israel as a colonialist, imperialist, foreign and illegitimate entity.
All the pleasantries aimed occasionally at world public opinion or the Israeli Left have just disappeared - and what comes out is simple and frightening: hatred, pure hatred. And it is this inner truth which is truly frightening: because if this is the language of the leadership and the intellectual elite, one can imagine the venom that percolates down to the street level.
The same, of course, applies to the press in most Arab countries. This is not criticism of Israeli policies: it is sheer, deep-rooted hatred. The language of peace, it so appears, has been merely a very thin veneer of respectability and political correctness.
When the pieces of the peace process will be put together again, as they surely will in one way or another, Israel will have to realize that security is guaranteed not only by physical arrangements on the ground - but that peace has also to be anchored in people's minds, hearts, and souls. Nobody should tell Arab writers or teachers what to write or teach; but you cannot have peace between diplomats and armies when this is not internalized by a country's writers, intellectuals, and poets.
This also means that at the next round of peace negotiations, it is not enough to have security experts and lawyers at the table (Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami was virtually the only exception at Camp David).
Peace is too serious a matter to be left only to generals and lawyers.
The author, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University, is currently a visting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.