The amorphous agreement of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to begin talking has pushed other items--that might otherwise be grabbing all the headlines--to the margins of national attention.
One is the impending election of two Chief Rabbis (Ashkenazi and Sephardi), after a campaign with nastiness that makes Knesset elections seem like the most refined of academic seminars.
Another is the problem of an otherwise distinguished nominee as Governor of the Bank of Israel, who was caught some years ago walking out of a Duty Free shop at the Hong Kong airport without paying for a garment bag.
Despite the juicy comments capable about those issues, it is more timely to focus on the possibilities associated with discussions that may begin in the near future.
If they ever get beyond discussions about what to discuss, there are numerous possibilities about how far they will get, and how they will leave Palestinians and Israelis to continue coping with one another.
There are loud voices in both national camps opposed to major concessions or even negotiations. Palestinians claiming membership in the leading circles are insisting that their government has not yet agreed to participate. Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to quiet discontent within his own party by declaring that any final agreement must be ratified by a national referendum. Abu Mazan could do no less. He has also promised a Palestinian referendum needed to approve an agreement.
A national referendum is an old proposal that comes out of the closet whenever Israelis face a difficult decision, but has never been employed. Netanyahu''s use of the device may quiet opposition to discussions, but there is already opposition to a referendum from those who assert that a majority of the Knesset is ample protection of the nation, and sufficiently democratic. The use of referenda in Israel and/or Palestine may degenerate to the worst of California demagoguery, and undo years of negotiation and mutual concessions.
While optimists are hoping for a final settlement of Israeli and Palestinian issues, a prominent possibility is another interim deal that settles some issues but not others.
The Oslo Accords are an appropriate model, even though tarnished by the failure of the parties to carry out key provisions and a widespread view that Oslo failed.
Oslo succeeded in important ways. It began the separation of Palestinians from Israel, established a significant degree of Palestinian autonomy, and freed Israel from responsibility for day to day governing and service provision with respect to the vast majority of Palestinians outside of Israel and Jewish settlements. While Palestinians are trumpeting that the pending negotiations must start with the 1967 boundaries, the reality is that they will start from the accomplishments of Oslo.
The appeal of a more extensive interim agreement is that it can extend Palestinian responsibilities over more territory, and provide more years for the two peoples to learn how to live alongside one another, without having to settle some of the knottiest issues likely to be deal-breakers.
Chief among these may be the claimed rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in Israel. In another couple of decades, there will be few if any refugees from 1948 still alive. If there are large numbers of their children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren demanding a right of return to homes they imagine to still exist, it will be the task of future Israeli generations to deal with them.
An interim agreement may allow negotiators to sidestep the final boundaries of Jerusalem and whatever share of the city will go to the Palestinians; Jewish, Muslim and Christian control over Jerusalem''s holy sites; Jewish settlements in areas claimed by Palestine; the rights of Jews in settlements to be residents or citizens of Palestine; Israeli demands that its troops remain in the Jordan Valley and that Palestine be "demilitarized" with security forces limited to the kinds of weapons appropriate to police, against Palestinian demands of full sovereignty with a real army and control of its borders.
If the outcome of this round is a greater than present Palestine, perhaps with Israeli and world recognition as a "state," but still an incomplete state, it will not be all that much of an anomaly on the world scene. No state is so completely sovereign that it has no degree of dependence on others. And there are other areas closer to the status of autonomous areas than full blown states.
One of the most prominent is the Kurdish area of Iraq, which has emerged as a relatively peaceful and prosperous area of what had been the country rendered chaotic and deadly by the American-led "solution" of problems associated with Saddam Hussein.
Another that may develop is an Alewite area of Syria, whose status as an communal enclave will depend on how the various forces inside and outside Syria continue their combat and other maneuvers.
Israel and Lebanon have managed to live with unresolved border issues for more than 60 years, Lebanon has a number of ethnic and religious enclaves that are autonomous for all practical purposes, and Israel has endured a great deal of poking around in its affairs by foreign governments and international organizations.
The United States and Mexico did not formally define their borders until nearly 40 years after the end of their war and the major transfer of territory in 1848. The US-Canadian border was adjusted several times during the 19th century, the large slice of Canada between the States of Washington and Alaska is something of an anomaly, and there remain minor border disputes without final resolution. US borders with both Mexico and Canada continue to be troublesome with respect to immigration and law enforcement.
Most relevant for the prospects of an imperfect Palestinian state is what develops with respect to the territorial separations and political rivalry between the West Bank and Gaza. One possible (perhaps probable) result of negotiations is not two states but three, or two states and an unaccommodated Palestinian autonomous area in Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority appears to be firm in its opposition to another interim agreement, but the realities of ongoing negotiations may overcome their ideals. Israelis have long demanded that a deal be final without dangling issues that may cause violence, but that may not be achievable in the foreseeable future.
An interim agreement with one or another partial resolution of outstanding issues is not the only possibility.
Most prominent is the possibility that negotiations will break down without resolving anything, as they did in 2000 and against during Ehud Olmert''s term as prime minister.
And one must not discount in this land another miracle of Biblical proportions, which would be handshakes and hugs around a document that declared a final resolution of all issues.