Without taking too much of a risk, and with the appropriate caution, it's possible to state that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians won't be signed this year. It isn't too hard to draw such a conclusion, considering that there is only a week left before year's end. So now let's move on to next year. What miracle needs to happen so that such a peace treaty can be added to the ranks of those with Egypt and Jordan?
On the assumption that the primary players will remain on the same stage, then no significant meeting will take place between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. By significant, I mean political and not humanitarian. The eight months in which Olmert managed to serve as premier without significant contact with the Palestinian chairman have been habit-forming. The concept of "soon" is the one that will really continue to make its appearance.
On the Palestinian side, too, there is no great brightness on the horizon. Abbas has made three threats: to conduct a national referendum on the prisoners' document, to fire Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh or the Haniyeh government and now to hold early elections. Two threats have not materialized, and the third is on its way to collapse. Abbas, like his supporters in Arab states, realizes this is a haphazard idea when the ground isn't stable, and the Palestinian public does not guarantee victory for a Fatah state. Abbas will therefore continue this year, as well, to run the Fatah forces, whatever their names will be, while Haniyeh continues to run his country, the same Gaza with the abundance of scattered forces and variety of gangs operating within it.
All these point to an original political diagram: three states for two peoples - Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. It's kind of a flawed Sudoku, with components that can't be connected. There is only one other example of such a division; it is located some 1,000 kilometers to the east, in Iraq.
For this reason, Sderot residents will also need to strengthen themselves with a little more patience, because the policy of restraint - even if there are exceptions here and there - will continue to be the permanent remedy. Now that most of the "reasonable" military solutions have been tried - and failed, and now that assassinating wanted Palestinians has not brought quiet, and now that Israel has rejected all Palestinians with whom it might have had a dialogue, there is only one reason to count the Qassam rockets: When the post-cease-fire average becomes higher than the pre-cease-fire average, there will certainly be someone who will want to send forces into Gaza. As long as the average is low, the restraint will continue.
This is the most optimistic scenario imaginable right now, with the current players. It is possible that in other countries, the citizens would hold protests against such dangerous behavior. Not here, though, because each of the leaders in this web is certain that he will soon win. The Hamas government will soon collapse due to lack of resources, Abbas will soon lose his forces because he can't pay their salaries and, in Israel, it doesn't matter if it's Hamas or Fatah, for there is no capitulation to terror.
Along with this optimism, it's not superfluous to present the fantasy as well. It has three components: negotiations with Syria; public adoption of the Arab initiative, as accepted at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002; and normalization with the Palestinian Authority, whoever its leaders might be. A peace treaty with Syria is no alternative to peace with the Palestinians or to an agreement with Lebanon, but it would reduce the relevance of Israel's opponents in the region, and is likely to diminish the range of Hamas' activity toward the outside.
Adopting the Arab initiative would destroy the key formal argument that Hamas uses to avoid recognizing Israel, even before the initiative is implemented, and would simultaneously be liable to advance formal peace agreements with additional Arab countries. And perhaps normalization with the PA, even without a peace deal, would be liable to strengthen long-term quiet between Israel and the Palestinians.
It should be immediately emphasized this is not, heaven forbid, about peace treaties, or about withdrawals, but only about public declarations and humanitarian steps. In other words, the construction of a new platform for regional relationships. They used to call it "starting the process" or "creating momentum." But this is only a fantasy. After all, it's still possible to live with 30 to 40 Qassams.
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