Peace talks AP 2.9.2010
Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas at talks in Washington D.C., September 2, 2010. Photo by AP
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If it weren't sad, it would be funny. Once every few years, some report appears about some Israelis and some Palestinians holding negotiations on some final-status arrangement.

If you examine the report carefully, you see immediately that the negotiations in question, like all the previous ones, failed to solve the problems of the refugees, Jerusalem and demilitarization. They provided no solutions to the Hamas challenge, evacuating the settlers or the weakness of the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

But since the newspapers' night editors are members of the same tribe, the morning headlines do not deal with what has not been achieved. And since the radio and television hosts are members of the same tribe, they don't ask the hard questions. Within a day, a cohesive picture of reality has been created - the good Palestinians were partners, the good Israelis were partners and the final-status agreement was within touching distance. If the bad Israelis hadn't come and ruined everything, we would be well into the age of peace by now.

It's funny, really funny. Only someone who doesn't understand the Palestinian tragedy could believe the Palestinian refugees would renounce their right of return to the houses and villages and towns they lost in 1948. Only someone who doesn't grasp the religious dimension of Palestinian identity could believe the Palestinian leadership capable of compromising on the Temple Mount and the heart of Jerusalem. Only someone who does not respect Palestinian nationalism could believe the proud Palestinian people would settle for a demilitarized, carved-up state with no army and no control over its borders or airspace.

We need to understand - not out of contempt for the Palestinians but out of deep respect for them - that they are still unable to pay the price of a peaceful end to the conflict.

It's funny, really funny. Only someone who doesn't understand the Jewish tragedy could believe the Jews capable of not demanding that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and renounce the right of return. Only someone who doesn't respect Jewish history could believe Israel would entirely give up its connection to the Temple Mount and the heart of Jerusalem. Only someone who doesn't understand the Israeli situation could believe the State of Israel would survive beside an armed Palestinian state with wide-open borders and wide-open airspace.

We need to understand - not out of contempt for the Israelis but out of deep respect for them - that they are still unable to pay the price of a peaceful end to the conflict.

It's very funny, but also very sad. We have been deluding ourselves for 15 years that we are very close, right on the brink. Once it was the Beilin-Abu Mazen document, once the Camp David summit, once the Geneva Initiative, once the Annapolis summit. And if only Yitzhak Rabin hadn't been murdered, if only Benjamin Netanyahu hadn't been elected, if only Ehud Olmert had had two months more.

But the truth is that the current peace-process paradigm is a false one. The proposed diplomatic horizon is a sham. There is no Palestinian partner for a permanent peace, no Israeli partner for a permanent peace and no chance for a permanent peace in the foreseeable future.

Thus if we don't want things to get very sad indeed - in other words, if we want to avert a disaster - we must think outside the box.

The Israelis must strive to end the occupation without endangering their state. To do so, they must make structural changes in their system of government, evacuate territory in the West Bank and receive guarantees from the international community.

The Palestinians must strive to build a viable state based on an ethos of life. To do so, they must continue Salam Fayyad's momentum, build the institutions of statehood and expand their control over the territories.

If both sides are capable of concluding interim agreements - wonderful. But if interim agreements are not possible, they must reach informal interim understandings that would create a two-state situation de facto.

The belief that one more round of negotiations would yield one more document that would finally bring peace has been disproven. Waiting for the perfect peace has become dangerous. After 15 years of stupidity, the time has come to say good-bye to the messianic paradigm of the end of the conflict. The only way to divide the country is to act both resolutely and cautiously to cool the conflict and end the occupation.