First, the bad news: More and more evidence suggests the odds of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace are slim. The first piece of evidence was provided by Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh. The document of understandings they formulated in 2002 is an impressive one that clearly and decisively speaks of a solution calling for two nation-states. The six Ayalon-Nusseibeh principles offer an historic breakthrough: The end of the occupation and realization of the Palestinians' right to self-determination, in exchange for the Palestinians forsaking the right of return.
Yet in recent months, Nusseibeh has recanted, turning his back on the two-state solution. A few things have happened to Ayalon as well. As a result, the "People's Choice" initiative, which gave hope to many Israelis and even generated attention from the international community, has collapsed. A courageous attempt to end the conflict via an agreement lies in ruins.
The second piece of evidence suggesting that peace with the Palestinians is far off was provided by the Saudi initiative. The strategic concept behind the initiative is a correct one: providing a pan-Arab wrapping around an Israeli-Palestinian accord. Yet the wording of the initiative is impossible to accept. It speaks of the "achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194." Resolution 194 grants all Palestinians the right to return to the homes they left in 1948. Therefore, what the Saudi initiative really offers is an agreed-upon, just and tranquil way to liquefy the Jewish state.
The initiative has received outstanding public interest, but it does not offer a two-state solution to two peoples but a two-state solution to one people - the Palestinian people.
The third and most convincing sign that there is no chance for peace now with the Palestinians was provided by none other than Ehud Olmert. The enthusiasm triggered by the dovish and brave declarations recently uttered by the outgoing prime minister precluded an in-depth discussion on their significance. In the past year, the Israeli leadership has offered its Palestinian counterpart a return to the 1967 borders, division of Jerusalem and even absorption of refugees. If Ehud Barak's peace experiment of 2000 was a flawed experiment, Ehud Olmert's peace experiment in 2008 is a flawless experiment. This time, Israel was not represented by some dark, military-minded figure, but a wholesome man of peace whose positions are those of Yossi Beilin.
Nonetheless, the Olmert-Abu Mazen process failed. Even though Israel went all the way, it did not find a Palestinian partner. Paradoxically, the prime minister who adopted the worldview of the Geneva Initiative is the one who toppled the Geneva Initiative. The real legacy Olmert leaves behind is definitive proof that there is no Palestinian partner ready to pay the ideological and political price necessary to establish peace-for-two-states.
The problem of the occupation remains an existential, moral one which demands a realistic and comprehensive solution. Yet whoever thought it could be dealt with by means of an immediate political agreement with the Palestinian Authority was proved wrong. The lesson accumulated from Oslo, Camp David, Taba, Geneva, the People's Choice, the Saudi Initiative and Olmert-Abu Mazen is that the Beilin way has run its course and reached a dead end.
To this point, this is the bad news. Here is the good news: More and more signs are pointing to improving chances of reaching an Israeli-Syrian peace. Senior intelligence, military and diplomatic officials of all stripes and influences today share the assessment that Bashar Assad indeed seeks to cross the lines and link with the West.
Syria's economic situation is porous. The global economic crisis has weakened the saber-rattling powers on whom Syria leans: Iran and Russia. As such, if the new administration in Washington and the new government in Jerusalem act, it stands to reason that they are capable of fostering a change of direction in Damascus. Yet doing this requires one to act with a level head and offer the right combination of carrots and sticks. In order to do this, one must make sure that Syria is severing itself from Iran and jihad, and then to reward it generously with the Golan Heights and Lebanon.
The correct strategy for ending the occupation is a long-term one. It requires a deep upheaval among the Palestinians that has yet to take place. On the flip side, a permanent status agreement with Assad appears to be within reach. As such, this is a time that demands that we do not waste energy and rhetoric over the pointless process that is Annapolis, and that we concentrate on the Syrian track. The United States and Israel must not let the fake peace in the east stand in the way of real peace in the north.
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