On Tuesday the Israelis will be electing a new government. Their choice will either bring a peaceful settlement with Palestinians closer, or continue the siege of Gaza engineered by the outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Though popular because of his successes, he is resigning to fight old corruption charges at home.
With the Israelis largely supporting the 3 week war on Hamas, renewed support for Olmert's political party Kadima, hasn't materialized. Some Israeli critics have suggested the timing of the war just before the election was to boost support for Olmert and his party. Though given that his possible successor, Tzipi Livni, his Foreign Minister, is a moderate, half the equation has to be discounted. Olmert as a politician on his way out, an old soldier and the most highly decorated one in Israel, was looking at how history would remember him.
The war may in fact have hurt Livni's chances to become the next Prime Minister. Supporting a Two-State solution and prepared to enforce it if Israeli settlers on Palestinian land would refuse relocating, she told CBS News on 60 Minutes recently, she finds the ground cut from under her. The devastating and yet popular war plays in favor of her conservative Likud rival Benjamin Netanyahu.
Popular anyway as a former Prime Minister, with a charming iron-fisted charisma, he has been catapulted forward as the logical successor to Olmert. Livni though with plenty of experience in government and pretty tough herself, closely involved with the punishment mission in Gaza, probably hasn't enough support for what amounts to a radical peace for the Two-States.
Even the Palestinians who were never wholeheartedly convinced it was in their best interests, would be angered by half a loaf after Gaza. The war has changed things.
Netanyahu reading his public correctly and the new peak in mutual hostilities as a fact of life, hammers the new reality of constant struggle against an implacable Hamas, as hard as Olmert did.
"It is clear Hamas is rearming", Netanyahu told Israeli Radio eleven days ago. "The next government will have no choice but to finish the work."
Israel then is choosing either more aggression or an extremely difficult peace. Since war works well enough to satisfy most people and countries with major disagreements, it goes forward here on both sides. Hamas talks tough, Netanyahu talks tough. If by some happy chance Livni does get elected, then Israel and the world could avoid a catastrophe in the Middle East.
Of course Netanyahu could make his vision work with military might. Israel certainly has the resources to bomb Palestinians into submission. With little practical support from the West and the Arab world alike, apart from some humanitarian aid, Palestine goes it alone. But Netanyahu could falter if Israel's chief backer, the U.S. withdrew its support, either financially or militarily or at the UN.
The Obama factor is still an unknown, though announcing a cease-fire just before his inauguration shows Israel is wary. On record as supporting both a Two-State solution and Israel's right to self-defense, it seems President Obama has no room to maneuver. What he will do or wouldn't do however, will change the face of the Middle East for a generation. Unless there's a basic change in the conflict.
Looking at history, it seems unlikely that Israel or America will go for any kind of reasonable peace that will mean concessions from Israel. They'll talk about it as they been talking about it since 1967.
That leaves the Arab world which also has been talking about a solution since 1967. Though the Arabs are great talkers they haven't got any new ideas either and so the interminable conflict goes on. Within Arab countries the people say it is their own pro-Western governments who refuse to take any action to support Palestine. Most Arabs if they could push their governments over the edge would take the road to war as they did in 1967.
Just how much inertia there is and just how much anger it will take to overcome it, will eventually lead to the time-honored solution of war. Israel and America would seem to take their chances in the meantime, hoping that inertia, reliable so far, will continue to triumph. This is the political solution at present, one Netanyahu is betting on heavily.
Then again there are other avenues no one seems to be considering in Arab capitals, besides the status quo or war. For Gaza there is an alternative that no one would like, but one that would bring an interim peace, possibly painless and permanent.
Egypt would have to march in invited by Gazans or not, and guarantee Gazan sovereignty. Palestinians wouldn't like it and the Egyptians wouldn't like it either, as relations even now between them are deeply strained. Egypt too shut its border with Gaza.
Israel would be angered, but unlikely to wage war, as they keep saying they have no territorial ambitions in Gaza. To make it a perfectly friendly arrangement, Gaza could be turned into a demilitarized zone by Egypt.
With a de facto incentive in place, perhaps the Israelis would come to terms with the West Bank. Of course they'd worry about other incursions from their Arab neighbors to settle the continuing West Bank question.
With Gaza at peace, other options for the West Bank could be considered by Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Many Palestinians are still scattered about in these countries as well as in refugee camps since 1967.
Jordan is keeping its distance from any involvement with the Palestinian cause, since its fortunes like Egypt's are tied to keeping the peace, and not offending Israel and the West. Both countries rely not on oil for revenue and power, but on friendly commercial relations and foreign aid.
But Palestine's Arab neighbors could still keep the peace and buttress the rights of the Palestinians on their own territory and in the West Bank. They could easily create an enlarged West Bank, by cementing many Palestinian communities and refugee camps into a largely contiguous Palestinian territory, that would form a Greater Palestine as a confederation of Palestinian Provinces still under the jurisdiction and protection of their respective Arab governments. The Palestinians would have their own federation and government for internal affairs.
It wouldn't cost Arab states any land or sovereignty. With some serious talk and signing of agreements, they could rewrite history without shedding any blood or losing face. The Palestinians would finally be pleased with their future as a people and culture guaranteed by their neighbors.
In time, faced with a de facto Greater Palestine, Israel might allow the West Bank to integrate with Greater Palestine. And the need for a Greater Palestine would then dissolve, as the Palestinians returned home. Palestinians would have their own country again.
On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos during the war in Gaza, Shimon Peres, the Israeli President said on camera he would accept any workable solution.
"Well, clearly, if there is somebody that can stop terror with a different strategy, we shall accept it."Here it is, my own idea of a resolution that would stop the terror. Not purely an intellectual abstraction, but based on my first-hand experience of both Arab and Jewish peoples and cultures with a grasp of politics and history.
With the Arabs taking a peaceful initiative, there would be no spoilers. Who could possibly object? The Palestinian militants could be absorbed into the armies of their host countries. Money wouldn't be a big factor either to build this new Palestine. Everyone gains and peace is the result. Any takers?