Yossi Beilin
The Daily Star (Opinion)
March 18, 2008 - 7:00pm

Before everyone starts considering closing down the Palestinian Authority (PA), ending peace talks, unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state or deciding to opt for a one-state solution, we should all calm down and wait another 10 months until January 2009, when a new administration takes office in the United States.

After all we have waited 40 years, during which time the Arab countries went to the Arab League summit in Khartoum to declare no recognition, no negotiations and no peace with Israel, and during which we failed to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel within the borders of the American Rogers Plan. We've had the Shimon Peres-King Hussein agreement that was never signed; the Madrid conference; the Oslo agreement; the autonomy agreement; the Camp David talks; the Taba negotiations; and the unofficial Geneva initiative. We are now in a kind of final stretch, and there is no reason - now of all times - to make irreversible decisions or to end negotiations prematurely.

The idea of dissolving the PA in particular is a kind of suicide threat: "I won't be here any longer, but you will never forgive yourselves." Elimination of the PA will not generate any positive replacement. It will end the Oslo agreement that constitutes the only basis for the fragile, problematic but all-so-vital system of relations between Israel and a Palestinian leadership that is recognized by the entire world.

According to Oslo, the PA was supposed to have gone out of existence in 1999. It will, I hope, soon disappear - but not before it is replaced by an agreed Palestinian state.

If, as next January approaches, it emerges that we have failed to make progress and there is no permanent-status agreement on the horizon, I will be the first to advocate a fall-back solution such as a long-term interim agreement, a declaration of principles that does not address all core issues, implementing the forgotten third phase of the 1995 interim agreement, or even a Palestinian declaration of independence - but one that is pre-coordinated between the two sides and can be understood as implementation of the second phase of the "road map."

We have such an abundance of unimplemented agreements that if there is no alternative, we can agree to implement one of them, thereby taking a partial step forward. One thing is clear: we must not repeat the terrible "all or nothing" mistake of the year 2000. That could again generate an outbreak of violence that even those who foment it cannot stop. If only we had had the wisdom to conclude the unfortunate Camp David summit with an additional interim agreement, with all its disadvantages, the region would look completely different: We would not have witnessed Hamas winning the Palestinian parliamentary elections, taking control of Gaza and violently sabotaging any chance of a peaceful settlement.

Is it really possible to reach agreement in 2008, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice again suggested in her brief visit to the region last week? I don't know, and I assume she doesn't either; but one thing I do know is this cannot happen unless we all make a supreme effort to reach such an agreement. After seven hard years of violence and political paralysis, of preference for unilateral steps and continuous reduction in public confidence regarding one another's intentions, after a dramatic weakening of the PA, and following a prolonged period of illogical and inexplicable behavior on the part of the Bush administration - there has now emerged a chance to return to the status quo ante of January 2001 and try again to proceed.

What must we do?

We need an immediate cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza. This should include the return of the abducted Israeli solider Gilad Shalit and cessation of Qassam and mortar firing from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a release of security prisoners, and a cessation of targeted killings and armed penetrations into the strip on the Israeli part.

Israel must maintain intensive day-to-day negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, preferably not inside Israel or Palestinian areas, and preferably through a secret channel. These talks should deal with all core and related issues so that by the end of 2008 we can sign a comprehensive peace agreement and, in parallel, agree on its phased implementation in accordance with the Palestinians' capacity to do so.

This is the real interest of President George W. Bush MBA-Presidents Sep-07 , who seeks to end his term of office on a positive and dramatic note. It is also the real interest of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who wishes to complete his presidency by making peace, as well as of Ehud Olmert, the unpopular Israeli prime minister who does not want to be remembered by the public as the man who failed at making war in Lebanon. This is a rare opportunity with a measured chance of success. Instead of proposing ideas of despair, better to improve those odds.

Yossi Beilin is a member of Israel's Knesset and chair of the Meretz-Yahad Party. This


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