- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008


GENEVA — The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the problem everyone agrees needs to be solved.

All parties concerned - Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, Russia, the European Union and the Arab League - are ready to sign on the dotted line that they accept the two-state solution as the only way out of the otherwise violent maze that is the Middle East.

Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians seems simple when compared with other problems the Jewish state faces, such as its on-again/off-again peace negotiations with Syria, talks that everyone from the Bush administration to the Islamists of Hamas seems to oppose; its situation with Lebanon, with which Israel has no real contention until the Palestinians or the Iranians get involved; and its problem with Hezbollah (read Iran).

Indeed, when comparing the four trouble areas, the simplest seems to be Israel’s standoff with the Palestinians. The result is known by both sides: a Palestinian state, living in peace next door to Israel. So why is this not becoming a reality?

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that everyone wants to solve,” said Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, former director of Israel’s National Security Council, addressing last weekend a symposium on conflict resolution organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies in Geneva.

Gen. Eiland offered an outstanding analysis of Israel’s current state of affairs, detailing the four trouble areas mentioned above, all in the 20 minutes he was allocated.

His analysis was crystal clear and concise. It was almost thorough and, for the most part, was correct and practically unbiased - not an easy task by any means.

It is easy to understand how he got to be director of Israel’s National Security Council when he can brief in such a manner. But there was a major element missing from his presentation.

In the general’s defense, I will say time was not a luxury he was given at the Global Strategic Review meeting.

“It is important to solve this problem more than any other one,” said Gen. Eiland, speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the blueprint already was drafted by former President Bill Clinton, “who gave the most intelligent detailed proposal on how to solve the conflict” in the final days of his administration.

“At the end of the day, the solution will be very similar to the very intelligent proposal put forward by Clinton,” said Gen. Eiland. “At the end of the day, whatever solution they reach will be 5 percent here, 2 percent there different,” but it will be Mr. Clinton’s plan.

So why is the problem not being solved? Everyone agrees to the two-state solution - the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Syrians, the rest of the Arab world, the U.S., Russia, the European Union and everyone else.

What’s the snag? Gen. Eiland thinks that a solution is not truly desired by both sides. The reason he gives is this: “The maximum the Israeli government can offer the Palestinians and survive politically is far less than the minimum the Palestinians can accept to survive.”

Let me say it again: The most Israel can offer remains unacceptable to the Palestinians, and the least the Palestinians can accept remains too much for the Israelis to offer.

Confused? Welcome to the Middle East peace talks.

What is the conclusion? Perhaps, the time has not come yet for a final peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

In the final analysis, whether they agree on a two-state solution or another formula, it is ultimately in Israel’s best interest to reach that agreement sooner rather than later.

If, as Gen. Eiland pointed out, Israel faces four major problems, there is one more trouble area he neglected to mention - perhaps because the amount of time allocated to him was the problem.

Here is what was missing, in this writer’s opinion: the demographic time bomb confronting Israel.

This is a three-sided issue:

First, the dilemma Israel faces at home with the Israeli-Arab population living in Israel proper. The Arab population is growing at a faster rate than the Jewish one.

Second, the rapidly changing demographics in the West Bank, but more particularly, in Gaza.

And third, the changing demographics in the United States, where the Arab-American vote is starting to grow and starting to get organized.

How many years before it, too, outnumbers the Jewish vote? A decade? Two decades? More?

The real enemy of Israel is time.

Much like Gen. Eiland at the Geneva meeting, time is a luxury Israel cannot afford to waste. This is probably a good time to go beyond the minimum that is acceptable and reconsider the maximum that can be offered.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.

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