My choices were grim after the latest suicide bombing in Jerusalem. I could crack down on Palestinian militants -- and risk provoking civil war between Hamas and Fatah -- or I could ignore them and be accused of abetting terrorism.
I chose a middle road. I decided to speak directly to the Palestinian people, to explain to them that violent resistance was hurting our cause in the eyes of the international community, and sabotaging my efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip. The response was harsh and derisive. President MacKinnon, I was told by my people, was "a pathetic puppet of the Zionists and America." The civil war I feared broke out a few days later and I was ousted from office.
I've discovered that it is not easy being Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Given the chance to do his job for a short while, I failed spectacularly.
Yesterday, as the Palestinian president met in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, I sat in my cluttered office a few blocks away and played Peacemaker, a new online game about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the low expectations for the real summit talks, it seemed the best way I could help.
Playing Peacemaker, which puts the user in the shoes of the Israeli or Palestinian leaders, is about as escapist as it sounds. On a good day, you celebrate the building of a new prison. On a bad day, you're counting the dead bodies and waiting for the inevitable counterattacks. It made me miss Super Mario Bros.
The game can be played in English, Arabic or Hebrew, and is the brainchild of American game developer Eric Brown and Asi Burak, a former Israeli intelligence officer. Their goal, according to the website, peacemakergame.com, is to promote understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Your goal as player is to "establish a stable resolution to the conflict and win the Nobel Prize."
If you choose the part of the Palestinian president, your first task is responding to an Israeli tank attack that kills 18 people in the Gaza Strip. If you play the Israeli prime minister, you immediately have to deal with an Islamic Jihad suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus. For those of us who live and work here, it hits very close to home.
The best part of the game is that it gives players a feel for the impossibility of Mr. Abbas's and Mr. Olmert's jobs. You spend most of the game staring at a row of opinion polls, wondering how it's possible to appease all your friends and foes at once.
If you're the Palestinian leader, the polls tell you how you're faring (separately) in the eyes of the two main factions, Hamas and Fatah, as well as with the Palestinian public and the Arab world at large. You are also measured by how the Israeli public and the Israeli prime minister see you, as well as by your standing at the United Nations and, of course, with the president of the United States.
Do something to please one group, and you inevitably anger at least one of the others. I started the game by telling my people that I was launching a "jihad of construction" in Gaza, only to realize I had no money to build anything. So I had to beg the United States, the UN and the European Union to fund my plans.
The Israelis, of course, controlled the borders, the airspace, Gaza's coastal waters, worker permits and travel between West Bank cities. So I had to regularly plead with the Israeli prime minister for help.
With each request I made to Israel or the United States, my standing with Hamas sank lower. In a desperate attempt to stave off civil war, I tried to bring Hamas onside in a "law and order" campaign, only to find the West was no longer willing to send money my way.
The parallels with what was happening in the real world yesterday -- where Mr. Abbas was trying to persuade Mr. Olmert to accept a Hamas-Fatah unity government and to help lift the economic blockade of the Palestinian Authority -- were striking.
In Peacemaker, doing Mr. Olmert's job is only slightly easier. Instead of Hamas, you have the Jewish settlers' movement opposing every gesture you make. And just when you think that you've removed enough settlements and made enough concessions to achieve peace, another suicide bomber attacks a café in Tel Aviv or a bus in Beersheva. Suddenly your public wants you to take revenge against the Palestinians, not hold summit meetings with them.
But if your domestic support is sinking, at least you have the money to throw around and buy back some love. And the president of the United States seems to have an oddly unshakable affection for you, no matter how you behave.
The good news is that on my third try at the game, I achieved what the game developers define as victory -- two states side-by-side, living in peace, sharing Jerusalem as a capital.
After getting it wrong the first two tries, I found the right answers the third time around. Now if only real life had a reset button.Report Typo/Error