I wish to distance myself from the pessimism about hopes for a political settlement that has gripped Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.
I have been personally acquainted over many years with the political leadership of the Kadima party. I joined its ranks in light of Kadima's political platform, which states: "The government will endeavor to determine the permanent borders of the state… by means of negotiations with the Palestinians, based on mutual recognition, previously signed agreements, the principles of the Road Map, cessation of violence and the disarming of terror organizations." The platform also asserts that "the government, in the absence of negotiations, will act… to determine borders that will reduce Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria."
The meaning of this is that the security fence, which annexes to Israel some 9% of the West Bank will become, eventually, the "unagreed" border, and so, from my point of view, ending the occupation - which is the root of the conflict.
The end of the occupation is an objective no less worthy than "armistice" or even "peace," since it is an absolute condition for both.
I wish to present three political suppositions that the reader might find surprising, or even far-fetched, but which are based on my years of experience negotiating, formally and informally, with Palestinians. They are also based on my academic research into conflicts worldwide and in this conflict in particular.
1) Conditions are not yet ripe for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and for peace between the sides.
2) Hamas and Kadima have a common interest in 10-year normalization and armistice agreements and the establishment of a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank.
3) Ideological movements that come into power with extreme platforms, such as "Greater Israel" or "Greater Palestine," become pragmatic in office, which allows them to postpone the dream (not to forget it and not to abandon it, only postpone it…). The examples of the PLO in the 1980s, the Likud in the 1990s and now Hamas, prove this.
In the summer of 1987, I was a member of the Likud Central Committee, close to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and one of the young ideologues of the party. I was the first of the party faithful to challenge the Greater Israel ideology.
In a series of secret talks with Fateh's younger leaders, Faisal Husseini and Sari Nusseibeh, in which Knesset Members Dan Meridor and Ehud Olmert participated, I attempted to bring the two ideological parties, Fateh and Likud, to a political pragmatism which would allow them to waive part of Israel/Palestine without abandoning the dream.
My arguments with Shamir and my public statements, contrary to party policy, led the prime minister to bring me before the Likud party court on charges of "ideological deviation." My ideas were indeed deviant. I preached then for dividing the land between us and the Palestinians, for dividing Jerusalem between the two states, and negotiating with the PLO, a terror organization that refused to recognize Israel.
We were then - Husseini, Nusseibeh and I - ideologues of national liberation movements that were forced to compromise and painfully give up positions we had held for many years. Nusseibeh was severely beaten for daring to hold talks with me, Shamir put Husseini in jail for talking to me, and the Likud court threw me out of the party for my contacts with the two of them. We were pioneers, perhaps too early, of the process of abandoning the extremist ideology of our movements.
Years later, Fateh and Likud abandoned ideology and chose political pragmatism. There was need for war-weary, charismatic leaders with impeccable patriotic records, such as Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon to lead their movements to political pragmatism - firmly based on two states for two nations.
The new political pragmatism of Fateh and Likud led to a new international and Arab consensus. The parameters presented by U.S. President Bill Clinton at Camp David, the Beirut Arab Summit decision, the Road Map - all these portray a permanent, pragmatic solution, far from the dream of Fateh, Hamas, and Likud for one undivided land.
Why do I think that the time is not ripe for peace between the two nations?
I can again testify, from my personal experience as advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, that the positions of the sides from the pragmatic political aspect were extremely close at Camp David. The gap that blocked a settlement was due to the difficulty the sides had in compromising on two sensitive ideological issues: refugees and the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif).
The Palestinians sought to find some symbolic way out of the ideological corner called "the right of return" that they had painted themselves into. The Israelis were unable to provide such a solution. The Israelis sought to find some fig leaf under which to extricate themselves from the "Temple Mount sovereignty" imbroglio. The Palestinians were unable to supply this. The second Intifada widened the chasm between the sides, leaving the two sensitive issues without a solution.
However, there is currently a new government in Israel: a coalition of Kadima and the Labor Party, which learned the limits of military power during the recent war in Lebanon. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are now paying a heavy price for their mistakes, and I believe that they are now more amenable than in the past to a less ambitious solution than the one Barak attempted to achieve - an end to the conflict and peace for generations.
The rise of Hamas presented its leaders with a dilemma characteristic of all ideological movements that come into power: "How to have your ideological cake and eat it too?"

The challenge - striving to be statesmen of the stature of Sadat and Begin.

The attempts to form a Palestinian national unity government, which may bring in its wake a Hamas ideological change from "non-recognition of Israel" to "recognition of regional political realities" could herald the first signs of political pragmatism. This is likely to increase in the future.
At present the Kadima and Hamas governments are unable to agree on the issues that torpedoed Camp David - refugees and the Temple Mount (Haram el-Sharif). On the other hand, their leaders are desperate for an arrangement that would stabilize their shaky governments. The current agendas of Hamas and Kadima should not aim at an ambitious overall solution, but rather proper pragmatic management of the conflict.
The correct management of the conflict, which will continue to beset us for many years, requires a number of basic conditions, which need to be agreed upon by both sides:
1) An end to the occupation in most of the West Bank - the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces and the dismantling of outposts and settlements, leaving only the major settlement blocs.
2) The establishment of a Palestinian state on 90% of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza with an agreed land link between them, with the separation fence being the temporary armistice border between the two states.
3) A cessation of all hostile and violent action between the two states for a defined period of 10 years.
4) During the 10-year cease-fire, or "hudna," an international force would deploy on the border, according to the Lebanon model.
5) At the end of 10 years the two states will resume negotiations aimed at finding a solution to problems of borders, Jerusalem, and refugees.
These five clauses grant Kadima and Hamas significant achievements. Their leaders will be seen as ideologues who took to the pragmatic political path without giving up their dreams, or their ideology. The basis for this arrangement is the Arab League decision of March 2002 in Beirut, which stipulates the normalization of relations with Israel and an agreed solution to the vexing issue of refugees and Jerusalem.
It is the right of both countries to agree to disagree on a number of issues, but, despite this, to provide their nations with hope and normalization.
This is the historic challenge facing Prime Ministers Ismail Haniyeh and Ehud Olmert - if they fail, they will soon disappear from the scene.
If they succeed, they would be acknowledged as statesmen of the stature of Sadat and Begin.