Bypass the Palestinians

Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin was right when he wrote that there is no chance to reach an agreement with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future ("What else can we concede?" December 4). Missing from his op-ed piece is the conclusion that stems from this assessment.

Indeed, the various Palestinian leaderships, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, Fatah and Hamas, are incapable of showing the kind of statesmanship that can lead to an agreement. This is the case for a number of reasons: a misunderstanding of reality, a sentimental fixation that binds them to both a baseless "vision" and a warrior culture, a lack of courage to tell the Palestinian public the truth, and personal interests based on the link between the continuation of the conflict and their staying in power. They have no chance to receive more than what Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered. Their refusal to accept these proposals is a historic error. There is no basis to the assumption that Israel will disappear from history.

The result is that the Palestinians find themselves in a historic trap of their own doing that precludes any chance of holding serious negotiations. To this we should add that an agreement with the Palestinians per se (or a deal with Syria) does not meet Israel's needs: Israel must be compensated by having its standing in the Middle East upgraded. It would thus not be prudent for Israel to give up the limited bargaining chips it holds to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, even if such a deal could happen.

Begin is also correct in saying that our future in our land does not depend on the Palestinians. But our future depends on whether we act wisely. So we need to carefully consider the conclusion that stems from the useless negotiations with the Palestinians. The key to a solution lies in three geostrategic realities.

First, the Palestinians do not pose a serious threat to the State of Israel. They are not capable of substantially harming our security if we are smart enough to develop a doctrine that befits the various scenarios of confrontation. The threat of "one state for two peoples" is nothing but a hallucination or an attempt to strike fear in Israel. In diplomacy, it is obvious to every serious player that Israel is not a "suicide state" and that it would quash such a nasty idea.

Second, the situation as it is today is not sustainable. The various conflagrations, which are inevitable given the lack of extensive change in current historical processes, boost radicalism in the Middle East, strengthen the Iranian axis, endanger the stability of moderate Arab states and harm the vital interests of the main powers, including the United States. All these factors stoke fears that Israel will face increasing pressure to make far-reaching concessions without receiving anything substantial in return. So a policy of "conflict management" is untenable and liable to exact a huge price from Israel.

Third, and most important for the long term, Islam's increasing global power will supplant the geopolitical weight of Israel and the Jewish people. It's quite likely that this power will be directed against Israel if the current state of affairs continues in which Islam's holy places in Jerusalem are under exclusive Jewish control amid occasional outbreaks of violence that ignite public opinion in Muslim countries.

So indeed, there is no chance of negotiations with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future, as stated by Begin. But we shouldn't accept the conclusion - even if Begin did not intend to raise it - that we must continue treading water. A series of symbolic band-aid measures have been taken, such as a painful construction freeze in the settlements, some of which will obviously remain in Israel; proposals to establish a provisional Palestinian state in parts of Judea and Samaria; "economic peace"; and ill-advised vacillating between talks with Syria and talks with the Palestinians. None of these address a basic problem: the need to stabilize Israel's standing in the Middle East in the age of rapid transformations that do not necessarily work to our benefit.

The right solution is an Israeli initiative that bypasses the Palestinians and works directly toward a comprehensive Mideast arrangement, one that relies in part on the Arab peace initiative. Such an agreement would include peace treaties with the key Arab and Muslim states. These treaties would call for a Palestinian sub-state that would fall under a mandate of moderate Arab states, all with good reason to be concerned about the establishment of a "rogue" Palestinian state.

A comprehensive deal for the Middle East would require many concessions from Israel, yet the return would be valuable: normalization of its standing in the region and, as a result, bolstering its national security for the long term.