Haaretz (Editorial)
October 23, 2007 - 11:01am

After seven bad years - years of terror, a diplomatic freeze, Hamas' victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections and its takeover of Gaza - empty words about a "diplomatic horizon" and barren meetings between representatives of the parties are giving way to genuine diplomatic processes and practical plans for solving the conflict.

At the end of the first meeting between an Israeli prime minister and a Palestinian leader ever held in the West Bank, Ehud Olmert announced that he and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas were determined to quickly craft a "framework" that would pave the way for establishing a Palestinian state. As Haaretz reported yesterday, Olmert, basing himself on a proposal by President Shimon Peres, welcomed the key principle of the Arab peace initiative, which guarantees that negotiations over the borders of the Palestinian state will be based on the June 4, 1967, lines.

The Peres document proposes that Israel and the Palestinians draft a document of principles, with an upfront guarantee that Israel will provide the Palestinian state with territory equal to 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Stirp. A prior agreement on this central issue, along with a binding timetable, would enable negotiations to be held on the details of the agreement. Such a discussion would focus, among other issues, on what compensation the Palestinians would receive for the designated settlement blocs, which must not interfere with the West Bank's territorial contiguity. The Peres outline also proposes practical and balanced solutions for the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees' return to places other than Israel's sovereign territory.

Neither Israel nor the Zionist movement has any more important or more urgent interest than ending the occupation of the territories. There is a stable majority among the public and in the government and Knesset that prefers a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, along with territorial exchanges, to the other solutions: a binational state, or an apartheid regime.

Moreover, time is not on the side of pragmatic forces in the Middle East. Israel's failed war in Lebanon, and the failure of American policy in Iraq, have raised the status of Shi'ite fanatics like Hassan Nasrallah, who receive support from Iran. The combination of hasty "democratization" and an atmosphere of violence is attracting extremist terrorist elements such as Al-Qaida to the region, and strengthening rejectionist organizations in the territories. Without a substantive change in the situation in the territories, Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip is liable to turn out to be the first step in a takeover of the entire territories by Islamic fanatics.

These enemies have created a rare common incentive for Israel, the Arab League, and the Quartet - headed by the United States - to strengthen the circle of Middle East moderates, which is aware of the importance of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, before Tehran completes its nuclear program. If this opportunity is missed, it is liable to be one miss too many.


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