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At the heart of the road map is a good idea - place Israel and the Palestinians in a tunnel and let them gradually, cautiously, and firmly work their way toward the unavoidable division of the country. Two states for two nations.

However, when it came to translating this correct concept into specific steps, something not so good happened to the road map. It got severed from the outlines of the land within which it is supposed to be carried out. The map lost any connection to what has been learned here about the local topography in the past three years.

So what has been learned during in these years? It is that the topography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two-dimensional. In one dimension, it is a quasi-colonial conflict about occupation; in the other it is a conflict of life-religion-death that is about existence itself. There is no way of reaching an end to this conflict without simultaneously confronting both its dimensions.

There is no way to reach peace here except through a simple barter transaction - an end to the occupation in exchange for an end to the existential threat. It's 1967 in exchange for 1948 - a realization of the Palestinian right to self-determination in exchange for an end to the right of return. Simply, that's it.

The road map contains no such clear exchange deal. Instead, it repeats the old mistake of advancing huge credit to a shaky borrower, and repeats the false tactic of postponing the due date. Therefore, instead of offering the Palestinians everything and demanding everything of them right now, the road map offers them little and demands nothing.

Yes, they are supposed to fight terror for two years. Yes, in that time they are supposed to pay lip service to democracy. But they aren't required to pay in hard currency - to really and truly accept the existence of a Jewish state. And they aren't required to depart from the reactionary ethos of the return. Thus the road map repeats the central mistake of the Oslo agreement - it is based on credit of wishful thinking in a place where hard cash is needed.

Nevertheless, the road map is superior to the Oslo agreements on one important issue - its engineering structure is parallel. Progress in the tunnel of the process is conditional on Israeli deeds and Palestinian deeds. Therefore, statesmen of good will can try to pour real content into the hollow statements of the vague document. They can try to save it from itself by means of a broad interpretation.

That is the task of Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen. If these two national leaders have something of that same pragmatic moderation which both of them claim, they must try to formulate a bilateral agreement of understandings that will stand outside the road map and be complementary to it, and thus prevent its collapse. This agreement of understanding can be called Sharon-Abu Mazen.

On what can Sharon and Abu Mazen agree? It's not realistic to expect that before even one settlement has been evacuated, Abu Mazen will agree to relinquish the right of return. It's not realistic to to expect that before the Palestinians have agreed to even one irreversible concession, Sharon will agree to a significant evacuation of settlements.

But Sharon and Abu Mazen can be expected to agree they are trying to bring about a real solution of two nation-states. Palestine - and only Palestine - will realize the right of the Palestinian nation to self determination, whereas Israel - and only Israel - will realize the right of the Jewish nation to self determination.

Palestine will be Palestinian, democratic and peace-loving; Israel will be Jewish, democratic and peace-loving. The Israel that exists and the Palestine to be, will promise ahead of time not to engage in violence against one another during negotiations to decide on the border. Both will promise that on the determination of the border between them, neither will demand of the other anything that is liable to endanger its existence, change its character, or undermine its stability.

This may not seem like much - only words. There is not one painful concession to get Sharon in trouble with the members of the Yesha [Judea, Samaria and Gaza] settlements, or Abu Mazen in trouble with the Palestinian diaspora. However, such words are of great significance They can endow the negotiations with a foundation of true mutual recognition. They can make up for what is missing in the road map and prevent the passing of the present moment of grace. The Sharon-Abu Mazen document won't guarantee success in the political process, but it would avoid the certainty of its failure.

At the end of this week, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] are supposed to meet for the first time as two prime ministers. For both of them, this meeting is a rare opportunity and if they miss it, if they don't start to formulate some profound understanding during the course of it, both will risk their achievements of recent months. Like the faint Springtime hope that blossomed earlier this year, both of them can still wilt in the oppressive heat that will prevail.