The goal of creating a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel is far from dead. Despite the seemingly interminable (and to date unsuccessful) Mitchell-brokered efforts to restart negotiations, the gloating in Netanyahu government circles and the despondency in the peace camp are seriously misplaced.
Skeptics on all sides have neither read the program of the 13th Government of the Palestinian National Authority published in August of this year (commonly known as the Fayad Peace Plan), nor have they internalized its meaning.
"Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State" is a bold and detailed blueprint for the construction of "strong state institutions" in order "â€¦to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years."
In a conscious effort to move away from the futility of armed struggle and the frustration of years of fruitless talks, it sets forth clear benchmarks and specific steps for the construction of a sovereign Palestinian state capable of ensuring the freedom, safety and well-being of its citizens. As such, it constitutes a daring exercise in state-building which significantly alters the rules of the game that have heretofore governed Israeli-Palestinian relations.
The Fayad plan is based on the premise that Palestinians can mold their destiny and shape the contours of their social, economic, legal, political and institutional order, just as other societies under foreign occupation have done in the past.
By defining attainable goals and providing concrete tools for effecting change on the ground, this initiative can defeat the pessimists who view "Fayadism" with disdain and enhance a much-needed sense of Palestinian empowerment. At the same time, by defying the notion that ultimate control rests entirely in Israel's hands, it may redress the asymmetry that has characterized past attempts at the resolution of the conflict.
As such, it can play an important role in leveling the playing fields - a precondition for fruitful negotiations.
THE POTENTIAL inherent in this strategic shift cannot be exaggerated. It reiterates the Palestinian commitment to making the vision of an independent, democratic Palestine based on a market economy and the principles of social justice a reality in lucid and concise terms attuned to liberal ears. It sets out a precise timetable for the construction of the institutional foundations for good governance.
It lays forth the decidedly non-violent methods needed to complete the tasks at hand. It invites regional and international involvement in the state-building project (which has already resulted in substantial support from Washington as well as from European and Arab capitals).
And, above all, it offers a serious incentive for the achievement of a negotiated permanent Palestinian-Israeli settlement by making it clear that it intends to put the key components of a Palestinian state in place in the foreseeable future.
Israeli responses to the Fayad plan have, not surprisingly, ranged from indifference and disbelief to outright rejection. Much like when the Arab Peace Initiative was first promulgated a few years ago, most Israelis simply don't know about the existence of the new Palestinian program.
The press has been notably parsimonious - if not thoroughly negligent - in providing the details contained in the 38-page document, let alone in fostering a debate on its contents. Most self-styled pundits have soft-pedaled its significance and belittled its ramifications. The majority of those in decision-making positions today have gone out of their way to question its premises and to undermine its provisions.
Some of the reservations relate, predictably, to the objectives contained in the Fayad plan: "The supreme goal of the national liberation causeâ€¦ is to end the occupation, establish a sovereign and independent state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and reach a just and agreed solution for Palestinian refugeesâ€¦."
Opponents of the two-state scenario never accepted such a formulation in the past and have no intention of doing so today. Those who reluctantly support an enfeebled and ineffective Palestinian state are having a heyday quibbling with its details.
Most hesitations, however, have mistakenly revolved around the purportedly unilateral thrust of the Palestinian prime minister's plan. Israeli policy-makers, still unable to absorb the paradigmatic shift it entails, have accused its framer of crafting a one-sided program which contradicts a series of signed agreements.
These protestations, however, are at best disingenuous when they are not decidedly misleading. Besides the fact that they completely ignore the Israeli disengagement from Gaza - a unilateral act if there ever was one - they purposely sidestep the essence of the Palestinian proposal: the securing of the institutional capacities of a state as the basis for a negotiated settlement, but not as a replacement for such an eventuality.
INDEED, THE Fayad plan is compelling precisely because it may be able to mobilize Palestinians (including Hamas, which has been unusually quiet on the subject) to develop the building blocks of a vibrant society, economy and polity. What seems to scare its detractors is the possibility that it will succeed. Such an outcome would sound the death-knell to the four critical cornerstones of the reigning Israeli rationale for inaction.
First, it flies in the face of the prevailing assumption that Israel has the ability to control the conflict and to single-handedly dictate the manner and the terms of its resolution. It does not.
Second, it completely undercuts the ingrained (if unfounded) assertion of all recent Israeli governments that there is no worthy interlocutor on the Palestinian side. To the contrary, the Fayad plan directly addresses this concern. "We are a partner for peace," it states. "Like all other peoples in the world, we aspire to live in peace, secure prosperity for our people and bring stability to our region."
Third, it shatters the claim that the Palestinians are incapable of governing themselves. The implementation of the plan will furnish tangible evidence to the contrary and give Israel what it has long sought: a democratic neighbor committed to lasting coexistence.
Finally, the program of the present Palestinian leadership provides an answer to all those who claim to support a two-state solution but don't believe it will come about. "The establishment of a Palestinian state within two years is not only possible, it is essential," it says. "The establishment of this state is fundamental to security, stability and peace in the region".
Israel has much to gain from reconsidering its attitude toward the Fayad Peace Plan. The decision is in Israel's hands: it can either meet the challenge posed by the initiative and conclude an internationally sanctioned agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state or confront its actualization in global isolation two years down the line.
For any peace-loving person who has Israel's interests at heart, the choice is clear.