“Mr. President, they’re ready to see you now.”
“Give me just another minute. I’m almost done.” In an otherwise pristine Oval Office, the President’s desk was littered with unread daily briefs, crayon drawings, baseball cards, and candy wrappers. He had been working very hard on two top-secret letters for the past several hours and was putting the finishing touches on the envelopes. “Hey Nancy…”
“Yes Mr. President?” the old woman replied.
“How many B’s in Abbas? And what’s this Abu Mazen business?”
How could things have gotten this bad? Everything had been going so well. They’d been talking every day; Mahmoud even sent him a care package, this time not via Hamas or Al-Aqsa – they changed their name anyway. Out of this package came the most enchanting fragrances of the West Bank, thyme and sumac, basil and rosemary, topped off with mint leaves and pomegranates. And even though the homemade hummus spoiled because the delivery boy got held up at a checkpoint, it’s the thought that counts.
The knot in Ariel’s stomach grew tighter as all sorts of ideas swirled through his head. He paced about his office, pausing every so often to play a few minutes of Xbox, a much-appreciated Hanukkah gift from George Bush. But this was no time for fun and games…he missed Mahmoud. He’d grown used to their nighttime conversations that would sometimes last several hours, and he was looking forward to having him over the following week for his world famous latkes. Wretched, wretched world! Who knew what was right or wrong anymore? He had to give Mahmoud that ultimatum, right? That’s the only way he would ever change.
“I’m gonna call him,” Ariel said as he picked up the phone, “No…I can’t!” He bit his knuckle to hold the tears back.
“Don’t call him. You deserve better than this,” said Lior, Ariel’s close friend and confidante.
“I heard a rumor yesterday that he called me fat. Why would he do that? He knows I have body image issues! This is never going to work out,” Ariel cried, “All his friends hate me!”
A day went by with no phone calls, no text messages, not even a secret signal during a press conference; then another day passed, and another, and another. Mahmoud lounged uncomfortably on a breezy morning in Ramallah, sipping tea and reading Al-Hayat. Nothing feels good, he told an aide when he awoke that morning. He had been so happy with how things were going since that first call from Ariel on that magical Tuesday, just two days after the election. He was so sweet then. Now, just a week later, they were strangers. Mahmoud had found himself in a rut he desperately needed to get out of. He closed his eyes and recalled those blissful 72 hours. The world had seemed so wide open, as if they could have accomplished anything together. He’d even made his mother’s special hummus for Ariel. How could he have let himself fall so hard so fast?
“I ought to do something to show him I’m still interested,” Mahmoud said, breaking the awful silence that permeated throughout the office.
“No, you mustn’t! He’s disengaged,” said his trusted aide Ahmed, “He doesn’t listen to you unless you’re telling him exactly what he wants to hear. He only listens when it’s convenient.” Mahmoud had known Ahmed for years and he’d never known him to give poor advice.
“But what am I supposed to do? I have to do something!” They looked at each other and immediately said in unison, “The fortune star!”
Ariel stared blankly at the envelope, afraid of what it might contain. It read, ‘To Ariel, From Mahmoud’ in what looked like a child’s handwriting, complete with the quintessentially youthful backwards ‘e.’
“You have to open it Ariel,” Lior insisted. “Remember that Shawshank picture we watched the other night at Avi’s? You’ve got to get busy living!” Ariel ripped the end of the envelope and let the note fall into his hand.
“Dear Ariel, I’m so sorry about everything that has happened,” he recited, “Let’s get together and talk. Meet me at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv a week from today: Room 204 at 3pm. I can’t stand things the way they are. Don’t contact me directly, just come straight there. If you can’t make it, I understand, but I really want to see you. Your friend (I hope!), Mahmoud.”
“Okay, pick a number.”
“Seven…no six,” Mahmoud replied, as he bit his nails nervously. Ahmed counted aloud as he opened and closed the origami star.
“Alright, now pick a color,” Ahmed whispered as he looked solemnly at Mahmoud.
“G-R-E-E-N. Okay, now pick another number.”
“Four.” Ahmed counted once again and unfolded the paper to reveal the fortune.
“You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.” As Mahmoud pondered the advice, a knock came at the door. A lanky young man peered in.
“Mr. Abbas? This note just came for you. It’s from Prime Minister Sharon.” Mahmoud jumped up at once, snatched the envelope and tore it open. He read:
“Dear Mahmoud, I’m so sorry about everything that has happened. Let’s get together and talk. Meet me at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv a week from today: Room 204 at 3pm. I can’t stand things the way they are. Don’t contact me directly, just come straight there. If you can’t make it, I understand, but I really want to see you. Your friend (I hope!), Ariel.” Just five minutes later Mahmoud was already making travel plans.
The rotund man sat in the narrow chair. He’d never been so nervous in his life. He looked at his watch…3:06…where was he?! He loosened his tie and poured a glass of water for himself. The door opened.
“Mahmoud!” Ariel’s face contorted; he couldn’t hold back any emotion. “I’m so sorry…”
“No, I’m sorry. I never should have…” Mahmoud paused. They embraced.
“How about we sit down and talk, ok Ariel?”
“Sure, you know I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.”
“Me too Ariel, me too,” replied Mahmoud, “I’m going to dispatch forces to stop attacks on Israelis in Gaza, and I am going to use tougher public language with militant groups. I just hope that I haven’t sabotaged our relationship. I’m trying very hard to show you I’m committed.”
“In good time we will be great friends again, Mahmoud. But listen, for now, no public high level talks can happen. Not just yet. I hope we can continue to have our enchanting phone conversations in the meantime. And this doesn’t mean our people can’t talk. We just can’t have an official meeting yet.” Mahmoud jumped up.
“I knew it! You’re ashamed of me! You’re ashamed to be seen with me in public. Oh who cares what other people think, Ariel? It’s just me and you, right here. This is all that matters,” Mahmoud said as he placed Ariel’s hand over his heart. Ariel quickly pulled away.? “It’s not that I’m ashamed! I have enough problems in my own party over all of this disengagement and cooperation. Maybe once I can show them some positive results in Gaza thanks to your efforts we can get together in February.” Mahmoud shrugged.
“Okay, I guess I can live with that, but your language must also change. You’ve got to let the Palestinian people know that you are willing to talk with my administration, or else we have no legitimate argument to make against militant violence. But other than that, I can’t complain. I’m happy that you invited me in the first place. I thought you didn’t want…”
“Invited you?” Ariel interrupted, “Who invited you?”
“You invited me. You sent me that wonderful note…you know, ‘I’m so sorry about everything that has happened…’”
“Let’s get together and talk?!” Ariel finished.
“Yes that’s the one.” Mahmoud replied.
“I didn’t send that, you sent it to me!”
“Now hold on a second, I didn’t send anything.”
“Then who did?” Ariel wondered aloud.
“I did, cowboy,” called out a familiar voice. The two men turned toward the open door and saw that loveable, smirking, do-no-wrong face. “Hehehe…I’m George W. Bush and I’m reporting for duty…just kidding! Hehehe…”
“George, you pisser! I can’t believe you did this!” Ariel cackled.
“What can I say? It was the only way I could get you guys in a room together. It was Colin Powell’s idea…I’m almost sorry to see him go now that it worked!” Ariel and Mahmoud sat shaking their heads, still in disbelief. They looked at each other and laughed.
“Of all the embassies in all states in all the world, you fellas walked into mine. I want to thank you for coming. Now, Mr. Prime Minister, just for coming, I’m going to upgrade that Xbox to Xbox Live and throw in some of my favorite games. Mr. President, I will see to it that Palestinian cause is mentioned in the State of the Union and has a place in the new budget, and I’ll work with both of you to ensure we prevail. When you’re ready to come over to Camp David, you let me know and we’ll get it done. In the meantime check out that Road Map…I’ve got a crisis of my own to take care of back home.” He then exited after shaking each man’s hand.
“So you really think this could work?” Ariel began, “Thousands of years of strife, a nightmarish half-century, a vicious Intifada and the unfortunate but necessary crackdowns that have followed…”
“Brutal IDF incursions, restrictive checkpoints, targeted assassinations…” Mahmoud continued, “And we’re going to be the ones to change it all?”
“We’re going to do our best, Mahmoud. That is all we can do. I’m no Yitzhak Rabin, but on the other hand you’re no Yasser Arafat, so maybe we’ve got a shot.”
“And if we don’t?” Ariel smiled.
“We’ll always have Tel Aviv.”