It was Karl Marx, the false prophet of communism, who once wrote that history repeats itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
That bon mot could, more or less, sum up the reaction of some skeptical onlookers to the embrace of new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas by both the governments of Israel and the United States.
For those who spent the 1990s claiming the Oslo process was rendered meaningless by the unwillingness of the Palestinians to make peace, the hoopla surrounding Abbas' unsurprising electoral triumph this week has a hint of déjà vu.
They point to Abbas' history of personal involvement in terrorism, his stated unwillingness to disarm the terror groups, his support for the Palestinian "right of return" which is to say, the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state and ask why anyone could imagine such a person doing any differently than Yasser Arafat, the man he loyally followed for decades.
What's going on? One might question the motives of those unreconstructed Oslo-ites in the media for foisting the mantle of peacemaker on Abbas. But are the Israelis, and by extension, the Bush administration, which is backing their play, just dumb?
According to Israeli government spokesmen, the answer to the latter question is no. Unlike the wide-eyed belief in a "New Middle East" that characterized the Oslo euphoria broadcast by the Labor Party government of the late Yitczhak Rabin, Israel's new coalition of Sharon and the ever-hopeful Shimon Peres claims it is taking nothing on faith.
A BLIND SUPPORT
In the meantime, Israel's American friends are left with a dilemma: How enthusiastic should they be about what some are claiming is a genuine opportunity for peace?
And that's where the line about history repeating itself comes in. A brief review of American Jewish attitudes toward the peace process from 1993 to the present shows the perils of making assumptions about the Palestinians.
From the moment the Oslo accords were signed on the White House Lawn in September 1993 up until its final collapse in the fire and bloodshed seen in the launch of the Palestinian terror war of attrition in September 2000 the instinct of most American friends of Israel was to blindly support the process.
That wasn't surprising. If Israel's democratically elected leaders choose to take a chance on peace, the natural instinct of those who do not vote, pay taxes or do military service in the Jewish state ought to be to defer to their judgment.
Americans who pose as greater experts in Israeli security than Israeli generals may not be wrong, but theirs is a difficult position to pull off. Being more Zionist than the Israelis is a pose few can credibly sustain.
What did happen here over the course of the Oslo period is that some Americans didn't make that mistake. Instead, they merely demanded that the Palestinians live up to their Oslo promises to end terrorism and stop teaching hatred of Israel and the Jews. Championed by the Zionist Organization of America and its leader, Morton Klein, the demand for accountability started out as a marginal movement. But by the end of the decade, as the perfidy of Arafat became even clearer, Oslo skepticism became mainstream.
The worst aspect of this debate was the foolish insistence on the part of both the Israelis and the Clinton administration on lying about Arafat and Palestinian noncompliance. In the end, the whitewash of the Palestinians only undermined the pro-Oslo forces' credibility.
Will all this happen again?
Klein, for one, who is no more impressed by Abbas than he was by Arafat, thinks we seem to be back where we were in 1993.
"Most American Jews were fooled by Arafat," he asserts. "We should be acutely aware that Abbas was Arafat's top deputy for 40 years." Klein believes American Jews should place the same sort of pressure on Washington to insist on concrete moves for peace as they did during Oslo.
But however principled it might be, such a stand runs smack into the desire of the Israeli government that its American friends not do anything that would scuttle the chances that Abbas will give Israel a measure of stability, if not peace.
Sharon can rightly answer his American critics that he, not they, has the support of the majority of Israelis for his plan to withdraw from Gaza and to try to negotiate again. Pointing out Abbas' very lengthy resume of dastardly deeds doesn't help his cause right now, his people say.
PLENTY OF LEEWAY
For now, that will probably be enough for most Americans, and even for those politicians who once supported Klein's demands for Palestinian accountability. Sharon's reputation as a "hard-liner" (like Yitzchak Rabin's before him) and Bush's ardent support for Israeli security will give them plenty of leeway from American Jews and the pro-Israel majority in Congress.
That means those right-wing Israelis who might be looking to America for help in stopping the Gaza withdrawal plan are doomed to disappointment. Given that fact, the ZOA will be smart if it merely insists that the Palestinians keep their promises. If their position morphs into open opposition to Sharon, few will follow.
And heaven help any American Jewish group or leader that even flirts with supporting Israeli soldiers who say they will refuse orders to disband settlements.
Right-wingers here need to be careful to stay clear of anything that reeks of support for outright rebellion over Gaza. If they don't and Klein, for one, insists that his group believes soldiers should follow their orders then they are on the fast track to political oblivion.
For now, most of us will sit back and watch anxiously to see if Sharon's bet on Abbas is a wise one. The Palestinians, and not the arguments of the skeptics, no matter how cogent, will answer that question.
But we should still keep one warning sign for danger firmly in mind.
If, after months and maybe even years of more of the same from the Palestinians, we are still hearing excuses about Abbas' behavior and messages about the importance of ignoring anything that squelches optimism, then the skeptics will be proven correct.
If so, then, as has happened many times before in Jewish history, what we will be watching will be a tragedy, not a farce.