Before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signs away the entire Golan Heights, he would do well to think about Jerusalem. After Israel gives Mount Hermon to the Syrians, how will it convince the Palestinians to let Har Homa remain in Israeli hands? How will the Palestinians - the weakest of all Arab sides - be able to concede the most valuable of assets to Israel?
But let's suppose for a minute that the explorations on the Syrian route actually encourage President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to hurry up and sign a "shelf agreement" that bypasses both Shas and Jerusalem. Suppose Olmert should present this document to the judgment of the Israeli public. What would be the results of elections or a referendum over the possibility of giving most of the West Bank to the Palestinians, while Hamas is firing Qassam rockets at Israel from territory already placed under Palestinian control?
Shimon Peres can tell the stories about how Hamas is able to turn an esteemed statesman into a serial loser. And we have not even mentioned the possibility that some Jewish extremist will decide to follow in the footsteps of the murderous Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who tried to thwart the second part of the Oslo Accords.
To stop the downward spiral, it is not enough for the Israeli government to make progress in its talks with the Fatah leadership. Breaking through the impasse requires a simultaneous policy change on three other axes: Israel-Hamas, Fatah-Hamas and Israel-the Jewish settlers. The connections between these four relationships and the interests of each side must be considered.
First: Even if Abu Mazen proves desperate enough to consent to an agreement that does not mention Jerusalem or offer a logical solution to the refugee problem, Olmert must grab the pen out of his partner's hand. It is better to disappoint the U.S. president, who will come here expecting an improved version of the Annapolis summit, than to make the Palestinian president into a traitor in the eyes of his own people, for the glory of Hamas and the casualties of Al-Aqsa. What will we gain by having Fatah make far-reaching concessions, only to find out later that most of the Palestinian public refuses to abide by them?
Those who were so eager to have democratic neighbors must consider that they, too, are subject to the constraints of internal politics. How can Abu Mazen sell an agreement in which Israel pledges to end the occupation in the future, if in both the past and present it has failed to live up to its commitment to remove several dozen roadblocks?
Second: As long as Hamas is not an essential part of the solution, it will continue to be the heart of the problem. After almost a year-long siege on Gaza, the time has come to tell our friends in the Quartet that the boycott policy has not brought Hamas to its knees. Egypt should be encouraged to complete the cease-fire agreement and the prisoner-release deal. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's plan to transfer control of the Gaza-Israel border crossings to the Palestinian Authority should be adopted. In exchange for lifting the siege, Hamas will be required to let Fatah negotiate the permanent-status agreement in peace. This way, a change for the better can be achieved on the Israel-Hamas axis, and Israeli interests can be furthered on the Fatah-Hamas axis.
Third: The United States and Israel must stop vetoing the possibility of a Palestinian unity government. As long as the two main political factions in the territories are at war with each other and Gaza is becoming an entity separate from the West Bank, there is no chance of creating among the Palestinians an atmosphere of reconciliation and a willingness to compromise. This will compel Abu Mazen and his people to overcome their wounded pride and re-divide the pie of Palestinian rule.
Fourth: The disengagement from Gaza has taught us that waiting for the very last minute to confront the issue of settlement evacuation plays into the extremists' hands. Implementing a plan in which settlers can voluntary leave the West Bank will demonstrate just how much the politicians overrate the power of the ideological settlers. Changing the route of the separation fence in various places where "security reasons" have served as a pretext for expanding the settlement clusters, as well as removing dozens of roadblocks that benefit only the settlers, will signal to the Palestinians and the entire world that this time, it is more than just talk.
If one of these four aspects is neglected, it will be enough to make the "shelf agreement" into just another document resting in a drawer somewhere, like the "road map" and the Oslo Accords before it. With al-Qaida breathing down Hamas' neck, a failure this time might end up being a requiem for sanity. Just note the reactions to Jimmy Carter's visit.
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