The clock is ticking
Going back to the negotiating table can change things. International involvement will help prevent another round of mutual recriminations. A neutral party will be present to point out any breaches of agreement and caution against them.
The opinion piece penned this week by Minister Uzi Landau ("A map to national disaster," Haaretz, April 8) contained a rare disclosure: The minister responsible for Israel's secret services, and until recently the public security minister, confessed that in order to avoid an international conference and the deployment in Israel of foreign observers, the Sharon government had adopted a policy the price of which was hundreds of dead, thousands of wounded and a rapid slide into a severe and unprecedented economic slump. Now, it turns out, it wasn't worth it, because the "road map" brings with it the same internationalization that Sharon was trying to avoid.
Finally, an honest man in the upper echelons of the Sharon government admits that the heavy price we are paying is a consequence of the government's refusal to return to the negotiating table for fear of global intervention. Now the public must decide whether this price is a reasonable one, and whether the fear of an international summit is justified.
Six years - 1985-1991 - were frittered away deliberating over an international conference, until Yitzhak Shamir himself went to Madrid. On account of Shamir, Israel missed an opportunity for a Jordanian-Palestinian solution, following his rejection of the London accord in 1987. Netanyahu decided to halt the Oslo process in 1996, and nailed the coffin shut in 1999. In 2001, Sharon called off talks with the Palestinians "as long as terror continues," knowing full well that for terror there was no better prize.
"What about the Palestinians?" the reader will ask. "Haven't they played a major part in aggravating the conflict?" Of course they have - radical Islamic groups that never wanted the conflict to be resolved in the first place; the Tanzim, which justified the use of violence as a way of competing with the Islamic organizations; the Palestinian Authority, part of which was involved in the violence and part of which opposed it but didn't fight it.
Going back to the negotiating table can change things. International involvement will help prevent another round of mutual recriminations. A neutral party will be present to point out any breaches of agreement and caution against them. Talks will strengthen the pragmatic factions in the Palestinian Authority that have grown weaker in recent years: Political hope will give them strength to fight those who say no to a solution. That is our real national interest.
Uzi Landau offers a totally different vision - one of sitting tight and perpetuating the situation by bringing about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. The policy he advocates will bring Israel face-to-face with the "real thing" - Hamas, which has no interest in compromise or political dialogue.
Landau believes that the danger to Israel lies in the establishment of a Palestinian state. What he fails to understand is that the window of opportunity for creating such a state and solving Israel's demographic problem is steadily closing. The Palestinians, who are willing to accept a Palestinian state on 22 percent of western Israel, are a dying breed. More and more are prepared to wait, together with Sharon and Uzi Landau, as the demographic clock ticks along.
The road map that Landau opposes so vehemently is a somewhat pathetic attempt by the world to come up with a scheme that satisfies, at least in theory, the Palestinians' desire for a state that encompasses all of the West Bank, and Sharon's insistence that it be limited to 40-50 percent of the West Bank. Sharon may endorse this plan in the hope that the temporary borders of the Palestinian state will end up being its permanent borders - because he will never consent to more than that. And the Palestinians will try to find a way to transform this temporary state into a permanent and larger entity, even if the parties do not reach an understanding within the allotted time frame.
The road map is another interim agreement. With all our experience over the past years, it is a shame we haven't learned that interim accords without an agreed-upon final status clause are a reward to extremists on both sides who are bent on sabotaging the prospects for a political solution.