Ramallah Abbas Palestinians
The conference in Ramallah yesterday. From left, Koby Huberman, Idan Ofer, Tayim Abed Rahim, Moshe Shahal, Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, Danny Yatom, Jibril Rajoub and Hussein al-Sheikh. Photo by Fadi Arouri
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A ghastly specter has Israel terrified − the specter of the Palestinian state. More accurately, this specter has been terrifying Israel’s leaders for the past four decades. It has now been replaced by a feeling of perplexity, which grows as we approach the day the Palestinian state is declared in the United Nations, with a sweeping international majority.

Despite Israel’s desperate efforts to stall the process, the die appears to be cast − a Palestinian state will be founded, and soon. Now the question is what Israel should do − beyond lobbyism, spreading horror and expressing fears.

It would be naive to see the establishment of the Palestinian state − especially without prior negotiations or an agreement with Israel − as a magic solution that will abruptly end the conflict. But it is no less naive to think that preventing its establishment is still possible or even helpful. Perhaps the opposite is true: If the land is destined to be divided, maybe Israel will benefit by standing genially beside the nascent Palestinian state’s cradle, even as one of its nurturers.

Israel can improve its status if it takes its fate into its own hands. It can be the first to welcome the establishment of a Palestinian sister-state, wish it luck, hold out its hand in peace and express a desire to discuss borders, refugees and settlements issues, this time on an entirely different level − as two sovereign states.

Perhaps such a courageous and generous step will help Israel shake off the stranglehold of delegitimization closing in on it, reduce the responsibility it has been charged with for the refugee problem and the occupation, and shift the conflict from the religious to the territorial dimension. On the tactical level, Israel will be able to pass the responsibilities required of a state to the Palestinian side as well, whatever its government.

As is his custom, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hastened to denounce the reconciliation agreement reached this week between Fatah and Hamas, instead of giving the Palestinian unity government a chance.

Even if the Palestinians prove a disappointment and even if the move doesn’t yield immediate practical results, demonstrating goodwill would help Israel retrieve assets it has long lost in the eyes of the world − a moral standing, good faith and honorable intentions.