From Hosni Mubarak to Ariel Sharon, Middle East leaders are trekking to Washington to discuss restarting the peace process. President Bush talks of a Palestinian state and of reforming the Palestinian authority, but (so far) offers no road map to achieving either. Here Shlomo Avineri, once Director-General of Israel's Foreign Ministry, proposes an innovative approach to reach both goals.
Two conflicting needs assail the Middle East. The Palestinians must rebuild political structures almost completely destroyed by Israel's recent incursions into the West Bank. Yet it is also clear that the Palestinians are unable to create a polity untainted by terrorism and free of an ideology that violently repudiates Israel's right to exist.
After the Oslo agreements were reached a decade ago, supporters of the peace process, in Israel and abroad, hoped that the PLO - an armed national liberation movement deeply enmeshed in terrorism - would transform itself into a responsible and viable political structure. Only then would a sovereign Palestinian state be able to live in peace alongside Israel. If the ANC could make such a transition in South Africa, why not the Palestinians? The hope that Yasser Arafat might become a Palestinian Nelson Mandela inspired even Israelis skeptical about the Oslo process.
This was not to be. Arafat missed the historic opportunity to achieve a Palestinian state in 2000 when he rejected proposals by President Clinton and then Israeli Premier Barak at Camp David and later in Egypt. Instead, he launched an armed intifada, in which competing Palestinian militias unleashed terrorism and suicide attacks against Israeli civilian targets - not only in the occupied territories, but also in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Hadera, Afula, and Netanya.