The Policy of the Obvious

Let's assume that the demand for seven days of quiet and holding fire on the part of both sides is unrealistic. Are we then sentenced to continue the relationship of terror with the PA?

Let's assume that the demand for seven days of quiet and holding fire on the part of both sides is unrealistic. Not that it isn't justified, but rather that in light of the assessment that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is not in control of the forces on the ground, or the assessment that he is in control but does not want to hold fire, it is impossible to fulfill this wish. Are we then sentenced to continue the relationship of terror with the PA?

The answer to this question is apparently yes, as long as Israel narrows down the basis of the conflict to the question of exchanges of fire between the parties. In so doing, it gives the cease-fire the same status as the questions of Jerusalem, the right of return or the settlements, and therein lies the Palestinian response.

This position is undoubtedly convenient for those who see the Mitchell and Tenet reports as taking a fundamentalist approach that allows for no interpretation. This stance has turned these reports into a vital tool for anyone looking for any pretext to avoid negotiations under fire - that is to say, under existing conditions, not to negotiate at all.

It is doubtful that Mitchell and Tenet intended such a result. Their reports were written and presented at a time when their authors believed it was possible to rely on Israel's policy of restraint and on the Palestinians' genuine willingness to respond to that restraint. Since then, the restraint policy has been shattered completely, turning into nearly an all-out war against the PA, its institutions and its civil infrastructure, and the Palestinians have not stopped their terror attacks for a moment.

And so, neither the restraint nor its collapse have contributed anything to a sense of security, and certainly not to promoting diplomatic talks. Despite this, the Mitchell and Tenet recommendations have never ceased to be a final goal that replaced the idea of the final arrangements - in the Israeli mind, but not for the Palestinians.

This also gave birth to the equation put forth by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Palestinians, along the lines of "if you stop firing, we will recognize your right to a state." At first glance, a policy of the obvious, which no one disputes anymore.

But the very utterance of this statement contains a recognition of the Palestinians' right to a state, even if they don't institute a cease-fire. In other words, Sharon, under fire, made a diplomatic proposal - even if it is empty of content for the present - spelling out what he sees as an appropriate price for a cease-fire. To put it another way, if they stop firing, Israel will begin deliberations on the nature of the state.

This could be the solution for continuing the discussion over the Palestinian state even under fire. After all, it is possible to separate the proposal from its implementation. Why not, for example, begin discussing the character of the Palestinian state, with the clear understanding that it will not be implemented for as long as Israeli civilians continue to be shot at? For those who insist on not holding talks with Palestinians while the firing continues, then a unilateral, public debate within Israel could be proposed, on a plan that Israel accepts, a plan that would move Israeli opposition away from the condition of a cease-fire and toward a critical condition such as the right of return for Palestinian refugees: a sort of "promised land" plan for the Palestinians that would replace the plan proposed by Ehud Barak when he was prime minister.

Such a plan would have to translate the American vision into concepts of territory and borders, of holy places and of defense and transit arrangements that will provide for the establishment of an enduring Palestinian state that not only assures Israel's borders but, above all, assures that only the new state controls all of the legitimate means of enforcement.

That is the plan that Israel must sell to the world, not a list of Palestinian violations of agreements that this government no longer recognizes in any case, or a list of wanted Palestinians that it is assassinating on its own. In such an agreement, the goal must be not an end to the conflict, but rather the specification of the remainder of the conflict that will be left for coming generations to solve.

Such an agreement would specify that the acceptance of a military-diplomatic solution does not for the meantime require cultural, religious or moral acceptance. Each side can continue to maintain its ethos and it own history book, including the delineation of the injustice caused to it by the other side.