I don't see over the horizon a Palestinian leader who is either capable of or willing to wage war against his fellow Palestinians in order to make peace.
The war in Iraq has produced substantive gains for Israel on the strategic level. Militarily, Israel's security has been fortified by the elimination of the Iraqi army on its eastern front--its longest, narrowest, and most vulnerable frontier--and the presence of 150,000 American soldiers fewer than 1,000 kilometers away.
With these gains for Israel come new perils. The destruction of Iraq's army and the prolonged resistance to American forces may lead to a breakdown of Iraqi society and, with it, a proliferation of terrorists and jihadists throughout the region. Even if the US succeeds in establishing democracy in Iraq, the probable result will be a Shi'ite majority government with close ties with Iran. That may be the best-case scenario for the US, but it would essentially move the Iranian border 700-800 miles closer to Tel Aviv--a big threat. To a significant degree, Iran has supplanted Egypt as the dominant Muslim power in the Middle East, and it's now gaining influence in Iraq and Lebanon. According to the Israeli army, 74 percent of all terrorist attacks against Israel in the last year have been perpetrated not by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or Al Fatah, but by Iranian-controlled and financed Hezbollah, which operates with impunity from southern Lebanon. By killing off the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Israel has created a vacuum that's now being filled by Hezbollah--our Frankenstein monster. Moreover, Iran is rapidly nuclearizing--and its nuclear facilities are beyond Israel's striking range and possibly beyond her ability to eliminate, certainly by conventional means.
If we hope to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the new Palestinian leadership must not only be strong enough to clamp down on terror, but also capable of signing a treaty and fulfilling what's written above the dotted line. Even after four years of terror, a solid majority of Israelis are willing to pay the price for such an agreement--a two-state solution in which the Palestinian state will occupy virtually all of the West Bank, except for settlement blocs; all of Gaza; and a share of Jerusalem; and Israel will help to compensate the Palestinian refugees monetarily. That's more or less the Clinton formula, and if it doesn't involve a large-scale return of Palestinian refugees, the majority of Israelis will sign off on it.
On the Palestinian side, the situation is far more complex. Palestinian public opinion tends to confirm what F. Scott Fitzgerald defined as the sign of an intelligent man: holding two opposite opinions at the same time. Polls consistently show that a sizable majority of Palestinians want to return to the negotiating table, want a two-state solution, want to end the war; and that same sizable majority of Palestinians say they want to continue the war, support the suicide bombings, and see Israel thrown into the sea. This conflicting mindset poses a formidable challenge to President Mahmoud Abbas: how does one agree to a treaty that does not allow the Palestinian right of return and then impose such a treaty on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Al Fatah? I don't see over the horizon a Palestinian leader who is either capable of or willing to wage war against his fellow Palestinians in order to make peace with Israel--whereas in Israel we do have a leader who is willing to confront, perhaps even violently, Israelis who oppose the government's efforts to achieve peace. For all of his difficult past, Ariel Sharon is the one Israeli leader today who can deliver. In essence, the core problem remains that we do not have a counterpart on the Palestinian side who is both acceptable to us and able to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people. If there is any hope of a breakthrough that will lead to Palestinian self-determination, the moderate Palestinians who command some respect among their own people will have to act quickly. Sharon is 76 years old and not in the best of health. I don't know if the next generation of Israeli leaders bears the moral authority to move dozens of settlements, even if they want to.
What I do see over the horizon is a fence that will secure Israel's demographically defensible borders. We will hunker down on our side of that fence until such time as the Palestinian society produces a leader who is prepared to confront his people's rejectionists--by force if necessary.
Dr. Michael B. Oren is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center; the contributing editor of its journal, Azure; and the author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. He served as an officer in the IDF, as a paratrooper in the Lebanon War, as a liaison with the US Sixth Fleet during the Gulf War, and as an adviser to Israel's delegation to the UN.