The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a cause for despair. Since the arrival of the Peel Commission in the country in 1936, innumerable attempts have been made to solve it. During the 70 years that have passed it seems as though everything has been tried: war and peace; denial and recognition; expulsion and compromise; settlement and uprooting; occupation and withdrawal; living together and living apart; an interim agreement and a final status agreement; the one-state solution, the autonomy solution and the two-state solution; Oslo and Camp David; disengagement and convergence. And nevertheless, despite all the attempts, the conflict is only getting more complicated. Ever more complicated.
The past year brought the complexity to new heights. This is because the Palestinian reaction to the unprecedented Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was chaos and violence, and because by choosing Hamas the Palestinians in effect changed their minds about the strategic choice of dividing the country. And when the Palestinians devote themselves to chaos and violence, it is impossible to end the conflict.
When the Palestinians turn their back on a division of the country, it is very difficult to divide the country. And without division the occupation is continuing.
Without division extremism is becoming stronger and sanity is disappearing. Without division the Israelis and Palestinian have each other in a stranglehold.
When reality is such a source of despair, the very human need to believe in magical solutions appears. In the Mecca agreement, for example. In the Saudi initiative, for example. In the Palestinian national unity government.
But the truth is that neither the Mecca agreement nor the Saudi initiative nor the Palestinian national unity government create a genuine basis for solving the conflict.
This is because even the internal Palestinian agreement, the pan-Arab initiative and the new Haniyeh government are decisively demanding the right of return.
The demand for the right of return does not accord with an end to the conflict. The demand for the right of return does not accord with dividing the country into two sovereign nation states. The demand for the right of return attests to the fact that in the era of Hamas the Palestinian people are not trying to establish a Palestine that will live alongside Israel, but rather strive to establish a Palestine that will replace Israel. Weaken Israel, put Israel to death and inherit it.
This extremely complex situation has a number of implications. On the one hand, it is clear that at the present historical stage there is no chance of getting the Palestinians to ideologically relinquish the demand for the right of return.
On the other hand, it is clear that without such a concession, any far-reaching Israeli withdrawal is extremely dangerous. On the one hand, it is clear the status quo is lethal, but on the other hand it is clear the attempt to jump directly from the status quo to an overall agreement is absurd.
On the one hand it is clear the moderate Arab countries demanding a horizon of hope are right, but on the other hand it is clear that those same countries are not contributing a thing to the creation of a horizon that is not an illusion. So what is needed now is not Israeli enslavement to a false international discourse totally divorced from reality. What is needed is a courageous, creative and sober Israeli initiative that offers thinking out of the box.
The Israeli initiative must have four aspects: Israeli willingness to carry out a limited withdrawal in Judea and Samaria even without a peace agreement; Palestinian willingness to turn the settlements Israel evacuates into rehabilitation sites for Palestinian refugees; commitment by the moderate Arab quartet to fund the rehabilitation of the refugees and to guarantee that the rehabilitation sites will not become bases for terror; and renewed international recognition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation state that solves the problem of Jewish refugees in exactly the same way the future Palestinian state will solve the problem of Palestinian refugees.
An Israeli initiative in this spirit will not bring an end to the conflict. It will not unravel the Israeli-Palestinian entanglement with one magical thrust. But it will create a gradual change in the situation that will indicate a direction that Israelis and Palestinians should follow.
It will prove that Israel is giving up the ethos of settlement while the Palestinians are beginning to move beyond the ethos of the return.
It will prepare the awareness of two tortured nations for a genuine historical compromise.
It will oblige Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan not only to preach reconciliation but to take responsibility for what the strategy of reconciliation actually requires.
This is the right thing the moderate West, the moderate Arabs and the moderate Israelis can do during this difficult time in the face of the rise of extremism.
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