Global challenges of economy and security become an ever-growing concern in transition periods such as the present one. In that context, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other geopolitical developments in the Middle East represent a myriad of problems of leadership, legitimacy, continuity and practicability. The concurrent transition among the terms in office of the relevant actors in the arena--the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority--should be meticulously prepared for.
The prospect of a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian agreement based on the two-states-for-two-peoples principle decreases as time passes. Yet Israel's national interest is to secure its future as a Jewish and democratic state while gradually terminating its control over the Palestinian population. From a Palestinian perspective, the objective of establishing an independent state should be promoted by strengthening the moderate Palestinian leadership through a series of tangible achievements in economy, law enforcement, institution-building, quality of life and international assistance. While security and personal safety are pre-conditions to any real movement forward, economy is a major facilitator and accelerator for such political progress.
Finally, in light of the Iranian threat and fundamentalist radicalization within the Islamic world, there are long odds to ending the Israel-Arab conflict via bilateral arrangements only. There is a struggle going on in the Middle East between the moderate forces identified with the West and led by the US and the radical alliance led by Iran. The strategic goal of the radical alliance is to bring about the fall of Israel by annulling its Jewish nature. To this end, the radical alliance objects with all its might to the two-states-for-two-peoples principle, employing both terrorism and political-diplomatic tools while advancing instead the idea of a single state.
One of the major arenas where this struggle takes place is the Palestinian. In this arena, the radical alliance won a significant victory in June 2007 when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. It remains to be seen whether the current Egyptian reconciliation effort can inject in the coming weeks a six-to-eight month supply of oxygen to the present PLO leadership prior to elections.
I have often heard that dialogue can only be based on mutual confidence. It is rather the other way around: it is dialogue, as well as a binding, consistent, continuous negotiation process, that can bring about trust between parties. Therefore the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process must continue in order to build upon understandings reached to-date and get the parties to commit to continue negotiations within the Annapolis framework.
In addition, the current US administration should encourage a broader dialogue based upon the Arab peace initiative, thus leading to an indispensable mindset change on the part of Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The "Jenin First" plan (the "Jones Plan") will be acknowledged as a security/governance/institutional/economic pilot program toward creating a positive atmosphere of change in order to support diplomatic efforts. It will allow the upgrading of the US-Israel security dialogue toward two-state status as well as American-Israeli-regional security understandings, coordination and cooperation. The positive traction already attained should pave the way for both the missions of US generals Jones and Dayton and USAID to upgrade Palestinian security capacities, foster economic development and gradually expand the model to other areas in the West Bank. Israel will systematically transfer powers and responsibilities over to the Palestinian Authority based on the Jones model.
At present, Israel will continue to maintain control over the external envelope of the Palestinian territories and to act against the terrorist infrastructure in coordination with the Palestinian Authority. This reality will continue throughout the transition period until the Palestinian security forces have been stabilized and an anti-rocket defense system has been established on the Israeli side.
As for the third party role, it seems imperative that the international community upgrade the assistance package to the Palestinian entity, allocating an international force that would be able to assume security responsibility in the West Bank areas and in the spheres defined. A mandate for an international stabilizing (and later peace implementing) force should be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.
Internally, Israel should prepare itself in advance, planning for qualitative alternative solutions that will if necessary enable resettlement of the evacuated settlers according to their communal and ideological needs. The timeframe for completing the planning stage of such solutions is estimated at three years at the very least. It should be noted that only if negotiations fail, and after exhaustive, sincere and continual efforts to make them work, would Israel be forced to take unilateral steps to ensure its Jewish, Zionist and democratic identity. It would do so by disengaging from the Palestinians and defining its boundaries roughly along the contours of the security fence. Such a substantive policy step should be prepared, on-hold, in advance and parallel to the negotiation process.
No sustainable agreement could be either accepted by the respective constituencies or endorsed by their political systems unless they have been on board prior to its conclusion, let alone in problematic transition periods. Therefore, concerted effort and attention must be given to continuous, comprehensive public discourse within Israeli and Palestinian civil societies, explaining to the public the thinking behind the political process.