Two states, one Jewish and one Arab, living side by side. (Instead of the usual arrangement, which bears entirely too close a resemblance to dying side by side.) Land transfers that would leave the larger Jewish settlements in place on the West Bank while adding about the same number of dunams to the Palestinian state. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state with its capital at Jerusalem, which would also house the capital of a new Arab state, the way Vatican City is part of Rome. Just as Muslim authorities now administer the Temple Mount while Jews pray at the Western Wall below it. Final settlement of all refugee claims, both those of Jews expelled from Arab countries and Arabs who fled Israel during various wars. For Israel, security. For the Palestinians, a peaceful, demilitarized state. A happy ending for all. For details, consult Minutes, Camp David, 2000. Where there's a will, there's a treaty, lacking only signatures.
There's light at the end of the tunnel! Only there's no tunnel. And there's no Arab leader willing to enter it, lest he never get out alive. How many peacemakers -- Jewish, Arab and other -- have been assassinated by now in the Middle East?
If there is one addition that would assure success for these negotiations, it would be the appearance of another Anwar Sadat. He changed everything, but they killed him. They killed Yitzhak Rabin, too. Who is this They who hate peace? The fanatical few who impose their "holy" cause on the many. Hope for peace is reborn every few years, or centuries, but the violent bear it away. And the names of their victims -- prime ministers, presidents, kings, peace itself -- stretch back across the decades and millennia, from Abdullah the First under the British to Gedaliah under the Babylonians.
In order to negotiate a two-state solution, somebody needs to represent both states. But who represents the proto-state of Palestine in this latest round of talk and only talk of peace?
Mahmoud Abbas represents only half a Palestinian state at best; Hamas controls the other half, and even now plots to throw its rival Fatah out of Ramallah as it did out of Gaza. And it just might do it if only Israeli troops weren't there to keep the peace. Which of the two -- Hamas or the Palestinian "Authority" -- is the rump parliament? Both, one suspects, for neither can claim an unchallenged legitimacy.
If the Arab side were really interested in a two-state solution, it could have had one long ago. The happy vision of two states, Jewish and Arab, living in peace, security and economic and political cooperation, goes way back -- at least to the Peel Commission's report of 1937.
One can almost trace the history of Arab-Israeli relations by the times such a solution has been proposed but never came to fruition. There was the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946; the partition of the British mandate approved by the United Nations in 1947; the Madrid Conference of 1991 and all its failed progeny, from the Oslo Declaration of Principles in 1993 to the Camp David Summit of 2000 and the Bush Road Map of 2003.
And that's to mention only some of the wreckage along this road to peace that, again and again, has led to war.
Once again we're in the middle of still another empty diplomatic exercise, which promises to produce a paper peace at best. To borrow a phrase from Israel's Abba Eban, who had a gift for pithy sayings, Palestinian leaders (from Haj Amin al-Husseini to Yasser Arafat) have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Offered half a loaf time and again, they're now down to bargaining for not even a quarter of what they once might have had, and that quarter already split between competing factions.
Has any people ever been so ill served by their leaders as the Arabs of Palestine? No wonder, whenever it is suggested that Israeli Arabs become citizens of this new Palestine, they protest mightily. Who would want to be subject to so chaotic a regime?
The current vivisection of Arab Palestine resembles what Israel would look like if David Ben-Gurion hadn't put down Menachem Begin's Irgun in a brief but decisive civil war at the very birth of Israel and established one state. The Palestinians now have at least two. And a couple of other states in the neighborhood are eager to underwrite the next war, notably Syria and a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. Meanwhile, the diplomats dither.
Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war, as Winston Churchill once observed. By all means, let these negotiations proceed, preferably indefinitely if they are a substitute for war rather than the usual preface to it. But let there be no illusions. This is but a shadow play, and a re-run at that.
Strange as it may seem, this may be as good as it gets in the Middle East: only occasional violence instead of Armageddon, only talk of peace rather than the real thing.
That's the Middle East.