Is It Time to Consider a Regional Agreement?

It is not within the power of the IDF to bring about a solution or a fundamental change, when all around millions of people in the Arab and Muslim world are being educated to believe that Israel is to blame for all their trials and tribulations.

The continuing stagnation in the war with the Palestinians, the absence of a conclusion and the sense that there is no formula at hand for ending the hostilities are reawakening the question of the aims of Israel's war. What, in fact, is the fighting about? To what end is the Israeli public being called upon to rally and make sacrifices? Is a stable agreement at all possible, or will the war go on forever?

In the 1990s the perception prevailed that the cure for the conflict was "a two-state solution," that if Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat were allowed to rule over an independent state in the territories he would mend his ways and change from a terrorist and enemy into a nice neighbor. When difficulties emerged, Israel decided to force the partition solution on the Palestinians, initially by diplomatic means, with the help of U.S. president Bill Clinton, who convened the Camp David summit in 2000.

When diplomacy failed, and the Palestinians started a war, Israel tried bombardments, targeted assassinations, imprisoning Arafat and occupying the cities of the West Bank, with the diplomatic backing of President George W. Bush. The aim of the war was to change the Palestinian leadership, until they became worthy of independence, in accordance with the road map.

And only Arafat was not convinced - whether because he was offered too little (as the left thinks), because of his desire to destroy Israel (as the security establishment thinks) or because of his revolutionary nature, which is no longer given to change. The Palestinian state was not established and such a possibility now seems very distant, despite the periodic declarations by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Americans and the Europeans about their "commitment to the road map."

Israel has succeeded in decreasing the terror, but even in the Israel Defense Forces it is believed that military means are not enough in the Sisyphean attempt to "persuade" the Palestinians with blows from a billy-club that terror doesn't pay. These bullying means are effective at decreasing the threat, but it is not within their power to bring about a solution or a fundamental change in the situation, when all around millions of people in the Arab and Muslim world are being educated to believe that Israel is to blame for all their trials and tribulations.

In these circumstances, the top military echelons are beginning to wonder whether it is correct for Israel to continue to insist on imposing a two-state solution, or whether its time has passed. Possibly the war is being conducted on the basis of an irrelevant paradigm, which was perhaps not practical even in the past.

What might a new paradigm be? In the West, there is an intellectual and media debate going on about Israel's right to self-definition as a Jewish state. Palestinian writers are proposing the establishment of "a state of all its citizens" on the ruins of the idea of partition and thus "exposing the Zionist apartheid." The idea is making waves. Last week the Los Angeles Times devoted an editorial to the question of "Who Needs a Jewish State?" and decided to support its existence after all.

In the Israeli establishment there are not, of course, many supporters for the idea of one state for the two peoples, which would mean the end of Zionism. Instead, there are those who are proposing an opposite idea, "the regional settlement," which means abandoning the failed attempt to share the land with Arafat and his cohorts and a return to the solution of the 1948 truce agreements. Egypt will take the Gaza Strip, Jordan the West Bank and Syria the Golan Heights, and Israel will obtain stable agreements with the countries responsible in exchange for conceding the territories.

This is how the army's support for an agreement with Syria should be understood, as well as the statement by Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon that it is possible to give up the Golan Heights in return for an agreement. As far as Ya'alon is concerned, the problem of security is not only measured by topography. No less important is who is in control on the other side and with a stable peace, the heights and the borders are less important. Syria looks like a possible partner for a stable agreement, but it is doubtful that this is the case with respect to the Palestinians.

Ideas about a regional agreement have cropped up several times during the past year. Sharon's disengagement plan also tossed them a wink, in his suggestion that the economy of the West Bank link itself to Jordan and that Egypt take on the responsibility for security in the Gaza Strip. The international community is ignoring these ideas and sticking to the Arafatian notion of making the Palestinian Authority into a state, and neither Jordan nor Egypt is keen to play the role designated for them in this scenario. Syria indeed does want the Golan, but Sharon is refusing to negotiate.

And despite the difficulties, the proponents of the idea believe that it is worthy of serious discussion in Israel, no less than Sharon's plan for a long-term freeze of the war along the post-disengagement lines.