President George W. Bush has declared that America supports a future Palestinian state, but will not help create one until the Palestinian people elect "new and different" leaders "not compromised by terror." The desirability of such a leadership change is clear. But making it a precondition for diplomacy could condemn Israelis and Palestinians to years, if not decades, of further death and devastation.
President Bush may now feel obliged to honor at least the spirit of his June 24 declarations. But if Yasir Arafat is reelected by the Palestinian people next year, as now seems highly likely, Washington cannot simply walk away. Nor is sitting on the diplomatic sidelines until those elections a realistic diplomatic option.
President Bush has already recognized the path that must eventually be followed. His vision of two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, living side by side, despite all the obvious problems, provides the only workable framework for peace. Movement down that path can begin today, looking beyond Mr. Arafat, but not waiting for his actual departure.
A number of constructive peace proposals are already on the table. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has won Arab League endorsement for full Arab normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to approximately the June 1967 borders. Important Arab countries stand prepared to pressure the Palestinian leadership for meaningful reforms.
More will be needed than declarations about returning to the 1967 borders or maps of potential land swaps. Finding the route to peace in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza cannot be reduced to some sort of abstract Cartesian puzzle to be solved by drawing a line midway between two positions, splitting this or that difference, or deciding one set of issues now and deferring another set for later. Mideast realities do not reveal themselves on a single plane, but are refracted by two lenses, one Israeli and one Palestinian. These two lenses, which are elaborated at the end of this essay, have each been shaped by a different view of history and justice. Understanding how to look through these two lenses simultaneously is essential to resolving the current deadlock and achieving a durable peace.
The Current Israeli Debate
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and now President Bush, refuses to deal with Yasir Arafat, a man Israelis no longer trust and whom they blame, with considerable justice, for the breakdown of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Sharon talks vaguely of a long-term "interim" agreement with a reconstituted Palestinian Authority no longer led by Arafat. More centrist Israelis hope to see Arafat step back from day-to-day leadership and act more like a chairman of the board. Some Labor Party leaders still see Arafat, with all his faults, as the only realistic negotiating partner for now.
But with the Sharon government uninterested in resumed negotiations, the hottest idea in Israel right now is unilateral physical separation from the Palestinians, principally through the building and armed patrolling of a country-long security fence dividing Palestinian areas from Israeli ones. The appeal of this idea to Israelis is two-fold. It promises to restore a lost sense of security and it does not require recognizing Arafat or any other Palestinian as a negotiating partner. The chief proponent of separation is former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is trying to rebuild the Labor Party on a platform of ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza without again having to exhort Israelis to trust Arafat. Separation also has support from Sharon, although it appears inconsistent with his implacable opposition to abandoning outlying West Bank settlements. Construction of a separation fence has already begun in some areas in Jerusalem and just inside the West Bank. A 30-mile long fence has separated t he Gaza Strip from Israel since 1994.
Separation's appeal diminishes rapidly once hard decisions have to be made about where to draw the separation lines and how to patrol them. Separation can only be geographically workable if Israel is willing to withdraw from all outlying West Bank settlements and all of Gaza. Otherwise, the fence would be too long and isolated for Israeli troops to patrol as intensely as would be needed in the absence of a peace agreement. Separation may also require the creation of walled Jewish ghettos in parts of East Jerusalem. Territorially, Israel's withdrawals would be almost equivalent to those discussed during the last round of Oslo negotiations, held at Taba, Egypt, in January 2001. And while there would be no need to negotiate with Arafat, negotiating these changes within Israeli society with no Palestinian promise in return of an end to the conflict, would be extremely contentious.
Similar problems attend the idea of working out a deal with a post-Arafat Palestinian leadership created or promoted by the Israeli government. Obviously, Arafat is a large part of the problem. And just as obviously, Palestinians, not Israelis, will decide his future role and who, eventually, succeeds him. Even more unrealistic is the long ago discarded notion, now favored by some Israelis frustrated with Arafat, of returning the West Bank to Jordanian rule. Jordan's Hashemite kings have made clear that they have no interest in destabilizing their own rule by adding 2 million restive Palestinians to a population already finely balanced between Palestinians and Bedouins.
Thus, the only realistic basis for a stable peace is the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, under a leadership of the Palestinians' own choosing. Most Israelis and most Palestinians, when they step back from the emotions of the current violence, accept that there must be two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, living side by side, and that their borders will closely approximate Israel's international boundaries at the start of the June 1967 Six Day War. Interested outsiders, including the Bush administration and Crown Prince Abdullah, understand this as well. They also know that before a two-state solution can be achieved, three contentious questions must be resolved: 1) In making equitable adjustments to the 1967 borders, which Jewish settlements will be annexed to Israel and what part of Israeli territory will be offered to the Palestinians in return? 2) How will authority over Jerusalem's intertwined Jewish and Arab neighborhoods and overlapping religious sites be divided? 3) What provisions wi ll be made for the rights of some 2 million Palestinian refugees now living outside of Palestine, mainly in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan?
One additional, indispensable, requirement for a two-state solution is a firm new understanding about security. Given the history of the Oslo agreements and especially the past two years, flowery declarations by Palestinian leaders and paper agreements will not be enough. Israel cannot expect to police the West Bank and Gaza Strip itself. But it will not turn over that responsibility to a force that declines to arrest and detain border-crossing terrorists for internal Palestinian political reasons. A resolution on borders, Jerusalem, and refugees must mean a final end to the 54-year-old conflict. Israeli and Palestinian authorities cannot flinch in using their full police powers against anyone who refuses to give up the fight.
An External Solution?
Any hope for breaking the impasse probably must come from outside, namely from Saudi Arabia and the United States. Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal earlier this year briefly transformed the external dynamic of Mideast peacemaking. Only weeks after it was adopted at the Arab League summit, Abdullah visited Bush in Texas and seemed to have won his support for a joint drive to modify Israeli and Palestinian policies, and to push the two sides back to the bargaining table. Bush's June 24 speech put this strategy on hold. But before long the administration may be pressed to revive it.
Bush's original policy of letting the two sides fight it out until superior Israeli firepower inevitably prevailed has nor helped Israel, has undermined Arab governments friendly to Washington, and has complicated American strategy on other issues, including the search for an effective way to halt Iraq's drive to acquire biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
Yet pushing for an international solution will confront the Bush administration with difficult challenges. The most immediate may be the domestic political uproar that would be touched off by any American attempt to lean on an unwilling Israeli government. Congressional resolutions this spring have demonstrated the deep support that the Sharon government and its policies enjoy in both political parties. Some of this support, particularly on the Democratic side, may be more for Israel than for its present government. An international solution that can clearly be shown to protect Israel's vital interests thus might be able to attract a degree of domestic political backing. But many of Bush's closest conservative Republican allies agree with Sharon's unilateral military approach to the Palestinian intifada and instinctively distrust international conferences and agreements.
An international solution may also require some kind of international monitors or peacekeepers, an idea Israeli governments have...