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These are hard days for those of us who yearned for peace between Jews and Arabs in our common homeland, and for those who are not blinded by this yearning.
While in Israel we are witness to the formation of an impressive majority advocating the idea of two states for two peoples, fanatical hatred and rejection of Israel is taking root among Palestinians.
While in Israel a large chunk of the right-wing Likud has moved to a centrist position and is ready to make far-ranging concessions, the Palestinians have voted en masse for Hamas - a terrorist, murderous group that denies the right of Israel - any Israel - to exist.
Over a million Palestinians now live, as a result of the recent elections in local authorities, controlled by Hamas.
Of course, there are always glimmers of hope that this mood will change. There could be progress toward a settlement with Israel or further unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank, but events on the ground in Gaza snuff out many of my flickering hopes.
There the PA does not even begin to fulfill its minimal role - and it really does not matter whether it cannot or will not do it. Gaza is becoming a base for waging war against Israel.
The missiles which hit Ashkelon are just a prelude of things to come which could force us to resort to more drastic counter-measures and which, in turn, will exacerbate the bloody, vicious circle.
Worse, a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank might bring the agents of the pro-Nazi regime in Teheran - headed by a demagogue who wants to do to Israelis what he claims the Nazis did not do to the Jews - close to our fragile borders.
In these circumstances, a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank might bring Iran to the suburbs of Tel Aviv. This is the unthinkable scenario which must be taken into account.
Even on the West Bank a glimmer of hope springs eternal - that the many Palestinians who voted for Hamas on the municipal level will vote otherwise in January's parliamentary elections - assuming Mahmoud Abbas doesn't postpone them.
It's also possible that the (now) two Fatah parties will come out ahead of Hamas and - under international pressure - opt for an accommodation with the Jewish state.
BUT ALL this is mere hope and there is no guarantee that sanity will prevail. Experience shows that sanity is not a highly prized commodity in the Arab street.
What a dilemma. While we can't just pull out unilaterally, our continued military occupation of the West Bank is also a dangerous option. The West Bank situation should be seen in the context of the danger of a mad, nuclear-armed Iran with its missiles aimed at the tiny, vulnerable Israeli island.
The one possibly effective response to this danger is Israel's entry into NATO - or alternatively a defense pact with the US - which may deter Teheran.
But no such pact can be envisaged while Israel is occupying the Palestinian territories - an occupation which anyway runs contrary to the very principles of our democracy, endangers the Jewish majority in Israel proper and causes daily suffering for the Palestinians.
What is left? The only practical possibility is that the Western powers undertake responsibility for the West Bank or, at least, that Israel make such an offer. Or, if that idea is not acceptable, that a UN mandatory regime be entrusted to the two Arab states which made peace with Israel - Egypt and Jordan.
If the Palestinians cannot rule themselves and the Israelis should not rule over them, let other Arabs rule the Palestinians under a UN mandate.
Anyway, these grave developments make it very clear that the demand made by the Quartet's road map - that the PA put a total end to terror is a just, elementary, sine qua non for any further progress toward a settlement with the Palestinians.
The whole of Europe accepts the need to stop the terrorism. The Economist editorializes so. The Northern Ireland precedent strengthens this demand. But the Labor Party, in an act of strange political adventurism, is ready, according to its new chairman, to give up this existentially vital condition. Some of the European ambassadors to whom Amir Peretz preached this strange gospel came out dumbfounded by this statement, one which outflanks European policies.
Indeed, it is difficult to understand Labor's new stand which is in complete contrast with its ministers' vote in the cabinet when it accepted the road map, and it is even harder to understand the silence of their MKs who privately complain about this new turn.
These hard days should not deter the lovers of peace from holding on to their aim, but blindness to reality will not help us achieve it.
Indeed, despite, self-deluding talk about Israel's power and omnipotence, the Jewish state is now thrown back to its dawn, to the days of the 1948 War of Independence, when the very survival of this Jewish island in an Arab-Muslim sea, was at stake.
Then, just as now, the need was for courage from within, and support from outside.
The writer, founder of the Shinui movement and a former education minister, is dean of the Radzyner School of Law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
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