October 31, 2003
Ayalon took over as chief of the Shin Bet security service in Israel in
1996, as a string of Palestinian suicide bombings massacred scores of
Israelis. In the first nine months of 2000, the year he left office, there
was one Israeli death from Palestinian terror. Much as he would like to take
credit for the shift, Mr. Ayalon says, it had little to do with Israeli
security techniques and a great deal to do with Palestinians' hopes for a
state. When there was optimism about their political future, he said,
support for violence plummeted, and Palestinian security services fought
radicals. When hope declined, terror rose and no one lifted a finger to stop
it. The most urgent task for Israel today, he says rightly, is to find a way
to renew that hope.
Mr. Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian university president, have
produced an admirable but unofficial statement of principles for a two-state
solution, which they say has been signed by 100,000 Israelis and 70,000
Palestinians. It deals with the most sensitive issues: Israel would be
recognized as the "state of the Jewish people," sovereignty in Jerusalem
would be divided and shared, and the Palestinian "right of return" would not
include returning to Israel.
A second significant peace development has also occurred. Key figures on
both sides, including former ministers, have produced a detailed agreement,
also unofficial, known as the Geneva Accord. It, too, would give explicit
Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and come to a
reasonable solution for Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees. Both efforts
deserve to be encouraged.
They reflect a reality that is hopeful and endlessly frustrating: a
majority of Israelis and Palestinians favor such a solution, but the
leadership needed to produce it is missing in Jerusalem, Ramallah and
Washington. At his press conference on Tuesday, President Bush blamed only
the Palestinians for the failure, saying they had not fought anti-Israel
terror. This is true, but he neglected to say anything about Israel's
settlement-building or its aggressive tactics in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip. Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, Israel's military chief of staff, spoke wisely
this week when he said these policies worked against Israel's strategic
Mr. Bush says he favors two states, yet little is actually happening.
Meanwhile, an insidious argument is gaining ground that the historic moment
for the two-state solution has passed. Instead, according to this argument,
the time has come to reconsider one state for the two peoples.
This is code for the end of Israel and must be strenuously opposed. The
problem is that its proponents do have a point — with every passing year of
increased Jewish settlement in occupied areas, the possibility of cleanly
dividing the land between two peoples fades. That is why there is such
urgency to gaining support for the new peace initiatives. Both peoples are
increasingly convinced that there is no one on the other side who is serious
about peace. These plans suggest that there is.