Text size

Major Eitan, the bureau chief of one of the General Staff generals, lives in a moshav near the West Bank, close to villages from which hostile activities have originated in the past few months. Eitan's working day ends late in the evening. When the moshav's administration notifies him that he has been assigned to the guard duty roster, this officer is forced to look among his younger neighbors for someone from whom - for NIS 100 - he can buy a night's sleep.

If Eitan lived in Tel Aviv or Haifa, he would be exempt from night guard duty and from paying a replacement, but then his general cost of living would be a lot higher. That's the flip side of the coin. That's how it is in the settlements too, where thousands moved for economic reasons - it's cheaper to live there. So let the settlers guard the settlements or pay security guards to stand at their gates and do patrols. The Israel Defense Forces' resources are limited, and it is better to apply them toward defending the highways.

The expectations of the settlers whose residence beyond the Green Line endangers national security while they do not bear their personal share of the burden, is no less selfish than the demands of the residents of Ein Shemer that a battery of Arrow anti-missile missiles that would divert missiles from the Dan region not be set up near them. By that same logic, a resident of Ramat Gan should shirk military service whose purpose is to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets toward Ein Shemer.

Just as the settlers have failed in their effort to convince most Israelis that the settlements are a security asset, the Palestinians have failed in their effort to convince most Israelis that the settlements are the cause of the murderous violence that began in September 2000.

The settlements spoiled the description of the territories as bargaining chips that would be redeemed in exchange for peace and it is astounding that the leaders of the struggle against the settlements - Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid - agreed to serve in governments that desisted from evacuating settlements (though it should be remembered that in Yitzhak Rabin's first government, Peres was the first to tie this milestone around Israel's neck). In their war - which has caused withdrawal to represent submission - the Palestinians are now preventing Israel from ridding itself of this burden.

The settlements, the source of endless trouble, are ruining the deal instead of serving as an incentive for it. But who is the deal with? The experiment called the Oslo process witnessed the collapse of the Palestinian presumption to self-administration as a sovereign entity. By shirking its responsibilities as a government to combat rebellious organizations, Palestine is becoming a failed state.

There must be a withdrawal from the territories, via an arrangement that will grant Israel peace and security, regionally and bilaterally, but the Palestinians have not proven themselves mature enough or responsible enough to establish a state of their own that will not threaten its neighbors from the outset.

An interim solution, perhaps the only one that has not been tried and therefore has not yet failed, is to return to Anwar Sadat's proposal of 1978 - a proposal rejected by the late prime minister Menachem Begin and the late Moshe Dayan at the conference that convened at Leeds Castle - for Egyptian rule during the interim period in Gaza and Jordanian rule in the West Bank. Begin, who played for all or nothing, declined the offer. Sadat brought it to Camp David, let it go and obtained more for the Palestinians, though less for Egypt and Jordan.

Egypt and Jordan are sticking to the terms of Israel's peace agreements with them. The Egyptian air force planes that escort President Mubarak ask for Israel's permission when they fly to Sharm el-Sheikh.

After two decades of peace with Egypt and after almost one with Jordan, it would be better to transfer the territories to them. The Palestinians would learn that violence doesn't pay and has even set them back a generation. In exchange for their willingness to accept this thankless task, Egypt and Jordan would achieve for the Arabs what the Palestinians have failed to do - the glory of getting Israel out of the territories and the evacuation of the settlements, some from the West Bank and all from Gaza.

Another incentive could be provided by Washington (via economic and security support) and Riyadh (whose renewed policy, as stated by Crown Prince Abdullah, mentions King Fahd's 1981 declaration). This is a problematic, imperfect alternative, but the others - including the continuation of the existing situation of accumulating arms and mutual killing - are even worse.