The Economist
December 4, 2008 - 1:00am

“THE big question is: do you want to end this conflict or just tamp it down? The arguments for the first are self-evident. Palestine fouls up our diplomacy: Israel is thrown at us whenever we ask Muslim allies for help. Unsolved, this conflict generates wars. The last administration was tripped up by the Israel-Hizbullah war in 2006. Another round in Lebanon—or a small war in Gaza, or a big one between Israel and Iran or Syria—is possible at any time.

But the argument for just tamping down is also strong. Presidents who go for the whole package waste their time and fail. Jimmy Carter got peace with Egypt but nothing for the Palestinians. Hillary will tell you Bill spent more time on this than anything else in foreign policy, but he failed too. His excuse is that Arafat suckered him (“Don’t you ever trust that son of a bitch,” was his parting advice to Colin Powell), but now that Arafat’s dead the Palestinians have two addresses instead of one. The Europeans tell us that Hamas can live with a two-state deal, despite its spiel about destroying Israel. But if we talk to Hamas we knock the legs from under Mahmoud Abbas. For now he’s still our Joe and the Palestinians’ president.

As for Israel, Ehud Olmert was a cooing dove compared to Binyamin Netanyahu, who looks like winning the election in February. He plays annoyingly well on the Hill and pushes the line that Abbas can’t deliver and that Hamas is a terror front for Iran (which, by the way, he wants us to bomb).

Even if you decide against going the whole hog, you’ll lose nothing by saying forcefully before Israel votes that we want a two-state solution with a shared Jerusalem and little modification of the pre-1967 line. Spell out the percentages. Netanyahu might as well know he won’t get another free pass to jerk us around on settlements. Then, honour satisfied, you could decide to put the full package to one side and try something more modest, like peeling Syria from Iran by dangling the Golan Heights. Israel’s own security people want a Syria deal.

If you want to get a settlement with the Palestinians too, we must start early and allow time. If Hillary is too grand to shuttle, appoint an envoy reporting to you to (1) make our Arab friends wangle Hamas back into a Palestinian unity government; and (2) get international buy-in to an “Obama plan”. This will in fact consist of the “parameters” Bill Clinton drew up in 2000 and are the nearest you’ll get to a sellable compromise. Hillary must help you sell this in New York as well as Riyadh. Only then should you step in to close the deal—after figuring out what mix of heat and reassurance to apply to the Israelis. They’re the ones who have to give up something real.”


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