Cliff May

Arafat's corruption and misrule, followed by the vacillation and weakness of his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, helped radicalize Palestinians and pave the way for Hamas to win elections under the banner of "change" and "reform." But based on its militant interpretation of Islam, Hamas also is committed to "resistance"- another way of saying that its non-negotiable goal is the extermination of what it sees as the infidel state of Israel.

"Hamas is not going to change," Toameh says. "All these people who believe that Hamas will one day change its ideology, that pragmatic leaders will emerge in Hamas, these people are living under illusions. Hamas is not going to change. To their credit we must say that their message has been very clear. It's the same message in Arabic and in English. They're being very honest about it."

After so many missteps, what is possible now? Toameh thinks it's time to think small, to look for ways to manage the conflict, rather than attempting to solve it with some grand design similar to those presented with elaborate ceremony in past years at such venues as Annapolis, Taba, Camp David, Oslo and Madrid.

This conflict is not just about Palestinians and Israelis or even Arabs and Jews. "Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, all these people are playing a very negative role in this part of the world," Toameh says. "Iran wants to fight to the last Palestinian."

He does offer some advice: "If I were an Israeli Jew I would go to the Palestinians and say, ‘Listen, folks. I'm prepared to give you a Palestinian state and the Israeli majority approves of that, not because we love the Palestinians, but because we want to be rid of the Palestinians.' There's a majority of Jews today who want to disband most of the settlements and take only two percent of the West Bank. In the wake of these positive changes that have happened inside Israel, all you need is a strong partner on the Palestinian side. There is some hope, but only if there is a strong partner on the Palestinian side."

Which, Toameh is quick to acknowledge, there is not at the moment. There could be in time, however, and working toward that goal would be a useful task for the peace processors to take on. But simply "assuming" that the Palestinians have decent leaders and that the Israelis have a Palestinian interlocutor willing and able to cut a deal that will lead to peace is as futile as wishing for water - or a can opener - in the desert.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.