The Israeli-Palestinian horizon is getting so dark there is almost no hope left. The complete diplomatic stalemate, the deteriorating economic situation, the weakening of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas' growing power (to some extent as a result of intentional Israeli activity) – all of these have brought the Palestinians back to the streets and intensified the rioting and acts of violence.
In describing the impending crisis, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said in a recent interview that "the air is filled with gas fumes." The Palestinian security forces are battling the rioters, but seemingly with less resolve. Perhaps the fact that Israel has frozen the tax revenues that are used to pay their salaries contributed to this. Meanwhile, Hamas is mocking the PA over its failures on the road to peace and is calling for a third intifada.
Israel must resume negotiations immediately in an effort to try and prevent the expected rioting, but due to the fact that the chances of achieving a permanent agreement are slim (at best) in light of the positions of the current Israeli government and the PA's weakness, perhaps we should revisit the principles of the "Road Map" for peace and try to implement them.
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon understood a long time ago that a Palestinian state would eventually be established - whether we like it or not – and that the Road Map is the best formula to minimize the risks such a state would pose to Israel.
Indeed, the Road Map conditions the diplomatic progress on changing the Palestinian reality in stages, which are examined regularly, until the time comes for a discussion on permanent arrangements – during which painful issues such as evacuating settlements, dividing Jerusalem and the refugee issue will be addressed. In the interim, the Palestinians will have to maintain a stable regime, display terror-prevention capabilities and uphold the rule of law. Should they succeed, the fears will disappear, trust will increase and the overall mood will allow the two nations to reach decisions on "existential" issues.
The Road Map was approved by the Israeli government in May 2003. The plan was also approved by the UN Security Council. The entire world has adopted the Road Map as the best plan to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the current Israeli government never annulled or revised the decision that approves the plan – it simply ignores it. And this is a shame.
Phase II of the Road Map calls for the launching of a process that will lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the current borders. In light of the recent UN decision to grant the PA non-member observer status, such a state nearly exists already. The continued negotiations leading up to the to the third phase – the discussion on a permanent agreement – will be conditioned on the Palestinian Authority's performance with regards to all aspects of government.
The goals set for the Palestinians by the Road Map are not simple, and it will take time to achieve them; until then, the discussion on a permanent agreement will be delayed. But in the interim, the Palestinian Authority will win a major diplomatic victory - a Palestinian state with provisional borders. The establishment of such a state may prevent the looming disaster.
The PA may agree to resume negotiations with Israel based on the second phase of the Road Map. The leadership in Ramallah is desperate; it does not want extremists to gain more power and does not want the terror and violence to resume; it also wants to avoid the complete collapse of the economy and seeks to maintain the stability of the past six years.
An international promise that the second phase will eventually lead to discussions on a permanent agreement may bring the PA back to the negotiation table. We may never get another chance to try.