Olmert Abbas 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
From the Israeli perspective, attempts to find a way out of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have been stymied by a conceptual contradiction never faced before.
On the one hand, there is a broad consensus among the Israeli public that ruling over the Palestinians is causing the country lasting damage and should end as soon as possible. Kadima, the main component of the government coalition, ran on the platform of a major unilateral withdrawal from most areas of the West Bank.
On the other hand, the outcome of our painful withdrawal from Gaza indicates that repeating this in the West Bank would be suicidal. With Hamas's rise it became clear that Israel's Gaza disengagement was not only misperceived, but exploited. No responsible leader would consider exposing practically all of Israel to the kind of Kassam attacks being experienced today by areas near Gaza. The Palestinian side has clearly demonstrated that unilateral withdrawal is not an option.
However, even if an Israeli withdrawal were coordinated with the Palestinians, this would not guarantee peace - for the simple reason that there is hardly any central Palestinian authority capable of imposing its will. The Palestinian political landscape abounds in a variety of militias and is splintered to a degree that makes it ungovernable by any of the groups contending for leadership.
Thus the conceptual contradiction: Israel wants out, but yielding these areas to a chaotic array of groups without a responsible central authority is impossible.
Unfortunately, the status quo is not a viable option either, since the radicalization of the area is further fueled by the Arab-Israeli conflict. In short, we are stuck.
THE DIFFICULTY of the Palestinian position is probably even greater. With Hamas heading the government, its political isolation is almost complete. The schism between the PA president and prime minister, and their respective supporters, spills ever more frequently into bloodshed. The alliance of Hamas with Iran and its leadership in Syria is increasingly perceived as serving the goals of extremists rather than the needs of the Palestinian people. The hopes of many Palestinians for nationhood, whether through the road map or by any other reasonable plan, seem more remote than ever.
What is needed is a central authority in Palestine that will make it possible for Israel to withdraw without prejudice to its security. In the absence of such authority the various attempts to negotiate between the parties will inevitably fail.
That means some kind of trusteeship for Palestine, as articulated by Martin Indyk in a 2003 Foreign Affairs article. At that time, the US might have been a natural choice to serve this function; but in the current political environment it is, unfortunately, unrealistic.
On the other hand, the EU, which has a paramount strategic interest in resolving the conflict in our region, is better suited to this role. With large Muslim minorities residing in Europe, the Israel-Palestinian problem further fuels discontent and extremism in these countries. Consequently, Europe could serve its interests - and the region's - by providing a political incubator for Palestine and, as in the case of Bosnia, prepare it for full independence.
This political incubator is in the interest of all parties, including the EU, and could be initiated by a joint Israeli-Palestinian request. In no way does it harm US interests in the region; quite the contrary. Such a framework could revive the road map and allow it to move forward.
The transition from political incubator - trusteeship - to full statehood is achievable depending on how quickly progress can be made. Likewise, the deeper European involvement, the greater the prospect of success.
The EU's main goal would be to pacify the situation on the ground (in effect achieving the first stage of the road map), help build democratic institutions necessary for independence and effectively manage how foreign aid is spent in order to dramatically increase the quality of life for Palestinians.
At some stage during this process the EU would also facilitate bilateral discussions between Palestine and Israel toward final resolution of all outstanding issues.
The details for such an effort need to be fleshed out, but, in the final analysis, the only way forward is this sort of radical intervention that would create an incubator allowing the development of Palestinian statehood.
The writer is a Kadima Knesset member and serves on the Foreign Relations and Security Committee.