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The negotiations with the Palestinians can metaphorically be compared to bargaining in preparation for a wedding. This is not a romantic love match, but rather an open and also quarrelsome one in which murder occurs. But still, it is a kind of "marriage," however forced upon the parties. Because of interpenetration and necessary joint activities, peace between Israel and the Palestinians will unavoidably be more intimate than the usual relations between neighboring countries in the Middle East.

This raises the question of what mahr (a gift that in Islam is given by the groom to the bride ) Israel has to give, and what dowry the Palestinians have to supply (it makes no difference if the gender terminology is reversed ).

The mahr will be big and expensive. It will include withdrawal from nearly all of Judea and Samaria, evacuation of settlements, some kind of division of Jerusalem and acceptance of substantial security risks despite all precautionary measures. The blow to Israel's social fabric and consensus will be traumatic. And, most important of all, Israel will be left without assets to negotiate a comprehensive Middle East peace.

Such a mahr requires a reciprocal dowry. But the Palestinians do not have adequate assets.

A peace agreement is beautiful and will improve Israel's image. The ceremonies will be impressive. The American president will be happy, at least for some time.

But the Palestinians, including Hamas, cannot endanger Israel's strategic security; any violence on their part can be contained and, if necessary, broken. And it is unlikely that they can provoke a serious Middle East conflagration. Therefore, peace with the Palestinians by itself does not make a critical contribution to Israel's strategic security - and especially if the dangers of a renewed eastern front are taken into account.

Israel's demand for recognition as a "Jewish state," assuming it is bona fide, lacks significance. Israel is overestimating the importance of declarations. And the very fact that it is posing this demand testifies to a baseless lack of Israeli self-confidence.

The refugee problem cannot be solved by a Palestinian state. The agreement will fuel fanatic aggression. And, worst of all, the marriage is likely to end in a violent divorce, because the stability of any Israeli-Palestinian agreement will be low as long as the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole has not calmed down.

Despite all that, it is important to get on with the marriage - for moral reasons, to ensure the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, to reinforce relations with the United States, to improve Israel's international standing, and as a contribution to routine security. But all these do not add up to a dowry equivalent to what Israel is called upon to give. Therefore, a family deal that would balance the payments is required.

Analyzing the Arab-Israeli conflict as a dynamic system, in contrast to a flat and narrow view, leads to the conclusion that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by itself lacks the critical mass required to bend history in the direction of normalizing Israel's situation in the Middle East - an achievement that was also beyond the peace with Egypt, for all its importance.

More than local peace agreements are needed to change the hard-core dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which produces new enemies and novel forms of attack despite local zones of accommodation. The conflict with the Palestinians, however important, is only one component of a much larger confrontation that requires holistic handling.

It is an illusion to expect that peace with the Palestinians on its own will bring about an agreement with most Arab states. The opposite is more likely: Once the Palestinian issue seems solved, Arab rulers will have little incentive to proceed to an agreement with Israel.

Therefore, Israel has to receive an expanded dowry - namely, a comprehensive agreement with the moderate Arab states that would be open to all Greater Middle East countries, based on the Arab Peace Initiative.

It is up to Israel to require the Palestinian Authority to bring its family with it to the wedding. Peace with the Palestinians, however essential, should be linked in a road atlas leading to recognition of Israel and establishment of relations with it by the majority of Arab and Islamic states.

The road atlas should also include phased progress toward peace with Syria, on condition that it disengages from the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis; a shared solution of the refugee problem; measures to stabilize the Palestinian state; mutual expression of regret at the suffering caused the other side; and containment of Iran until, in time, it joins the Middle East peace agreement.

For its part, Israel will give agreed "gifts" to the bride's family, including a fitting status in the Holy Basin for an Islamic state chosen by Islamic authorities.

This is the dowry that Israel should require in return for the large mahr. It is up to the Palestinians, together with the U.S., to arrange it. Anything less than that would require Israel to give a lot for much less. This is a luxury that we cannot permit ourselves.