When it comes to the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the distance between the parties is still great. For that reason, the Annapolis conference
will not be much more than a festive event accompanied, at most, by a declaration regarding hope for the future. To a large extent, both sides have been taken captive by their respective extremists, and these radicals are not allowing the negotiators to offer any meaningful concessions.
Yet despite this, we should certainly recall that the gaps between the two negotiating sides at this time are smaller than they have ever been during the 100 years of fury and suffering.
Both parties accept the principle of the two-state solution, and both recognize the fact that the border will be similar to the 1967 boundaries. Both sides recognize their duty to settle, through negotiations, the questions of Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, borders, security, and water. Both sides know, even if they have not said so, that ultimately a peace agreement will be very similar to the Clinton-Taba-Geneva model. And both sides know that if negotiations fail, it will be time for the extremists.
Indeed, extremists on both sides are expecting the negotiations to fail and praying for a dead-end. Time is not on the side of the Israelis or Palestinians. It is mostly on the side of the radicals.
The main burden of progress is on the shoulders of the Israeli government and Israeli public opinion, because Israel
is the one controlling the Palestinian territories and not the other way around. If Ehud Olmert chooses or is forced to grant his hawkish coalition partners a right to stop the entire process, the result would be that Netanyahu will come to power within a short time.
Moreover, consequently the extremists will defeat the moderates on the Palestinian side as well, and instead of Mahmoud Abbas we shall be facing a belligerent front masterminded by Iran.
Olmert’s leadership will be tested not only by his ability to maneuver between coalition partners Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai, but rather, by his determination to lead a historic change.
The hawkish Right in Israel argues that Mahmoud Abbas is too weak and therefore making peace is not worthwhile. This is the same rightist camp that argued that Arafat was too dangerous, and therefore it was not worthwhile making peace with him either. Yet truth be told, there is a direct link between a decline or a boost in Abbas’ status and what his moderate path will or will not achieve through talks with Israel. Abbas is only weak as long as we make him weak by not granting him any substantive achievement.
What will happen if the current talks fail? The two-state solution may see its demise in case of such failure, and we shall be forced to choose between two historical disasters: One state (approaching an Arab majority) between the Jordan River and Mediterranean, or an Israeli apartheid regime that continues to repress the occupied Palestinians by force, while the Palestinians continue to violently resist.
We have to go to Annapolis, and move ahead in the wake of Annapolis, based on the realization that both peoples already know more or less what the final agreement will look like: Palestine based on the 1967 borders, alongside Israel, with reciprocal border amendments, without a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and with two capitals in Jerusalem.
Everyone knows this – even the objectors on both sides already know this. The patient, both the Israeli and the Palestinian, is almost ready for the surgery. Will the doctors show enough courage?