The solution to the Jerusalem problem is widely known: The Jewish neighborhoods stay in Israel, the Arab ones are given to Palestine and the Holy Basin becomes part of a special regime. The solution to the refugee problem is also commonly known: Palestinians' right of return will apply to the territory of the Palestinian state, while such claims will not apply to the territory of the Jewish state. Just as well known is the solution to the settlement problem: Territory swaps and annexing large settlement blocs to Israel, and the eviction of isolated settlements.
All of these solutions easily ensure that a demilitarized Palestinian state will live peacefully next to the Jewish nation state. And will allow us to move, within a year or two, from an era of conflict to an era of peace.
But here's the rub: None of these popular, simple solutions can be implemented in the foreseeable future. As of today, the Palestinians are not agreeing to a demilitarized Palestine or a Jewish Israel, nor are they willing to renounce their claim to return to sovereign Israel. Israel, for its part, does not have a state institution powerful enough to evict 100 settlements with their 100,000 residents. And neither Israel nor Palestine possess the maturity and responsibility necessary to run a delicate coexistence regime over Jerusalem, the world's most dangerous city.
The conclusion is obvious. Although everyone apparently knows how the agreement to partition the country will look, there is little chance it will be signed or implemented in the coming years. It's no surprise that Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni failed to accomplish much during their year of talks with Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia. It's also no surprise that the Palestinians are refusing to hold direct negotiations with Israel, and that Israel does nothing to evict illegal outposts.
The notion that peace is within reach is a falsehood, something both sides are simply telling the rest of the world in order to conceal their respective hidden agendas. The Palestinians feel history is working in their favor, and are not ready to compromise. The Israelis, meanwhile, are paralyzed. Both talk peace and play at peace, but neither are willing to pay the price of peace.
In the second half of 2010, the United States intends to pull half of its forces out of Iraq; it also seeks to end the war in Afghanistan some time in 2011. In between, it will have to deal with Iran. To succeed in these three gigantic missions, the United States is trying to appeal to the Arab Muslim world. It's working to show that it is as attentive to 330 million Arabs as it is to 13 million Jews. As such, Washington is tempted to believe in the impossible: pleasing Islam by quickly closing the file on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This temptation is a lethal one. The United States can push Israel, but not the Palestinians. Trying to force the parties into a false, quick peace will end either in an explosion or in a dangerous, biased agreement. Either way, the result will be the opposite of that sought by the Americans. Breaking Israel's back and instigating a series of ongoing crises in Jerusalem will destabilize the Middle East; sooner or later, it will bring about a renewal of violence. The war that will eventually erupt will not be a local one, but a regional war with a religious dimension.
The Obama administration has but one way out: Syria. Only an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement can balance out the Middle East. Only an Israeli-Syrian peace deal will help Iraq, isolate Iran and indirectly contribute to the cause in Afghanistan. Only such an agreement can create the time frame necessary to guarantee slow but certain progress on the Palestinian track.
So instead of demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers Jerusalem, Washington should demand that he delivers the Golan Heights. U.S. President Barack Obama must throw all his weight behind a peace agreement in the north. Israeli-Syrian reconciliation is the only realistic way to bring peace to the Middle East as early as this year, and to justify the Nobel Peace Prize presented to Obama in December.
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