Haaretz (Editorial)
February 29, 2008 - 6:09pm

Dozens of rockets are fired every day at southern communities, people are being killed and wounded and struggling to retain their sanity in the face of a threat that disrupts their daily routines, and all the while, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is meeting with Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) in an effort to reach a peace agreement. This is the Olmert government's diplomatic strategy. But in order to learn whether it stands a chance, it needs to finally be put to the test.

If there is indeed a moderate Palestinian leadership with which we can reach a peace agreement that would win support from the world, and perhaps even from a majority of Palestinians, and if such a deal might weaken Hamas, then even if it is only an agreement "to be put on the shelf" until it can be implemented, it ought to be put on the shelf as soon as possible. There is no point in drawing the process out until the parties have agreed on every detail, since the longer the talks drag on, the more detached the negotiators become from the reality in which they operate, even if their intentions are good.

The negotiating teams have been meeting several times a week for more than four months now. They are not making do with former agreements that were almost signed - not even with the Clinton framework, which came closest to being signed. This time, they want to discuss every issue thoroughly and finalize every detail that might someday torpedo the agreement's implementation.

At the same time, the public has the feeling that this is no more than an academic exercise. The issue most troubling to Israel is who will be handed the keys when the Israel Defense Forces pull out of the West Bank. Currently, two Palestinian entities are dealing with Israel: one via dialogue, and the other via force. Hamas is too strong for anything to be decided without it, but too extreme for any agreement to be reached with its representatives. If there is any expectation that the signing of an agreement would produce momentum for peace that would tip the balance in favor of the moderates, it must happen soon, before the blood that is being spilled further exacerbates the hostility between the parties.

According to this diplomatic worldview, the peace talks born in Annapolis are a life vest for the region's pragmatists. At the moment, it seems as if the Palestinian national movement that aspired to an agreement on two countries living side by side is barely alive, while the movement that considers a state alongside Israel insufficient controls the Palestinian street. Calls for giving up on the idea of two nation-states and replacing it with a single binational state are being heard from both the European left and academic experts on the Middle East.

The two-state solution has been eroded by years of settlement activity that blurred the historic partition lines. Ariel Sharon, Tzachi Hanegbi, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert spent too many years in Likud. Now they are trying to pick up the remnants of the milk that has been spilled. The greatest concern is that another year will go by, there will be another election, more blood will be shed, and the talks will not even produce an agreement for the shelf. There is no sense that the government is investing all its efforts in this, or even that the prime and defense ministers are pushing the negotiators.

The prime minister must immerse himself completely in these talks, not express doubts to foreigners about the negotiators' ability to achieve their goal by year's end. He must either wash his hands of Annapolis or invest his all in it.


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