"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that everyone wants to solve," said Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, former director of Israel's National Security Council, addressing a symposium on conflict resolution organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, last week.
Eiland offered an excellent analysis of his country's current state of affairs, explaining the four issues outlined above in the 20 minutes he was allocated. Who said miracles don't happen anymore? He was concise, he was thorough, and he was, for the most part, correct. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and that is what was missing from his otherwise outstanding presentation. But in his defense, time was not a luxury he was given at the Global Strategic Review meeting.
"It is important to solve this problem more than any other one," said Eiland, speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which among the four problems stands out as the simplest -- or shall we say, rather, as the least complicated -- of the lot.
"Everybody supports the two-state solution," said the former Israeli official. He explained that the blueprint for it was already mapped out by U.S. President Bill Clinton, "who gave a very detailed proposal on how to solve the conflict" in the waning days of his administration.
"At the end of the day, the solution will be very similar to the very intelligent proposal put forward by Clinton," said Eiland. "At the end of the day, whatever solution they reach will be 5 percent here, 2 percent there different," but it will be Clinton's plan, basically.
Everyone agrees to the two-state solution; the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Syrians, the rest of the Arab world, the United States, Russia, the European Union and everyone else. So why is the problem not being solved?
Because the solution is not truly desired by both sides.
"The maximum the Israeli government can offer the Palestinians and survive politically is far less than the minimum the Palestinians can accept to survive."
In other words, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is caught in a "Catch-22" type situation. The most Israel can offer remains unacceptable to the Palestinians, and the least the Palestinians can accept remains too much for the Israelis to accept.
What is the conclusion? Maybe the time has come to make a realistic assessment of the conflict, said Eiland, suggesting that perhaps there could be two Palestinian states -- one in the West Bank controlled by Fatah and one in Gaza under Hamas leadership. It should be re-examined. There may well be something worth exploring here, but just how feasible is it to make a healthy state as opposed to a failed state out of Gaza, where more than 1.5 million people eke out a living under some of the most strenuous economic conditions on the planet?
How long would it be before those 1.5 million souls become 2.5 million, and then 3 million and more? With no infrastructure, no major investments in the territory, no industry to speak of, no room for expansion, how long before the human time bomb that is the Gaza Strip explodes and the population oozes over into Israel? Too far-fetched? It already happened on the Egyptian side of the border some months ago. That incident had a peaceful ending because Egyptian border guards decided they would not open fire on fellow Arabs and Muslims. But what would happen when that same scenario is repeated some years down the road, only this time the human mass decides to try its luck on the Israeli border?
Whether a two-state solution or another formula is reached, it remains in Israel's best interests to reach that decision sooner rather than later. Because aside from the demographic dilemma Israel faces at home, as the non-Jewish Arab population of Israel proper grows at a faster rate than the Jewish one, and the demographic time bomb ticking away on its borders with Gaza and the West Bank, there is yet another element in the demographic predicament to consider: the changing demographics in the United States, where the Arab-American vote is gathering momentum. How many years before it too outnumbers the Jewish vote? Ten years? Twenty years? Forty years?
The real dilemma for Israel is time. Much like for Eiland at the Geneva meeting, time is a luxury Israel does not have.
(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)