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The price of peace

Mahmoud Abbas's visit to Washington was the first good news for Zionism in a long time. We must applaud President George W. Bush's agreement to the Palestinian leader's insistence that Israel cease all settlement activity, including in Jerusalem, and that the Palestinian territories retain the possibility of contiguity, including a real link between Gaza and the West Bank. We must celebrate Bush's understanding that this is the only way to achieve peace.

If we do manage to get back to the negotiating table after the first disengagement, someday Bush and Abbas may very well be credited for the saving of Zionism by pushing forth the only rational solution to the conflict two viable states for two peoples.

It is clear that without the US-Palestinian intervention, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, through his insistence on grabbing large portions of the West Bank, is leading us toward national suicide. Even though the settlers don't see it, Sharon is convinced that he can get rid of the burden of Gaza and, in exchange, keep large parts of the West Bank, as he has stated: We'll take Gush Etzion, we'll take Ariel, we'll take all of Jerusalem, we'll take and we'll take.

If Sharon believes that the Palestinians and the world will acquiesce in all of Sharon's takings, he is very wrong.

But let's assume that he is right; and let's also assume that his speeches calling on Jews all over to come to Israel bear fruit and the "demographic devil" is reduced in size for a few years, how long will it take before everyone realizes that the two-states-for-two-peoples option is no longer viable?

People like Gideon Ezra, Meir Sheetrit, Ehud Olmert and Sharon himself have finally come to the conclusion that it was a mistake to settle in Gaza. Their eye-opening realization came only three decades too late. How long will it take them to come to the same conclusion regarding the West Bank? There is no doubt that there is positive movement on the Israeli political agenda. It is likely that, following the disengagement from Gaza, the Israeli agenda will move to the West Bank.

Ehud Barak has already proposed another wide-reaching unilateral disengagement from the West Bank. Barak is proposing that Israel move behind the separation barrier and annex 10 percent of the West Bank. While Barak seems to have little chance of recapturing the Israeli political stage, it is likely that his agenda will sell well with the public.

Sharon, Barak and others will try to convince us that Israel is only taking 10% of the West Bank, and that Gaza is no longer occupied. Quantity is not the only issue here and Israel's physical presence in Gaza is not the determining factor on whether the occupation has ended.

Ten percent is not much, that's true, but without east Jerusalem, including the Old City, no Palestinian in the world will ever agree to peace. Ten percent is not too much, but if that 10 percent cuts the territorial contiguity into pieces and leaves Palestinian cantons surrounded by Israeli bypass roads and settlements, there will be no chance of a viable Palestinian state.

If Israel leaves Gaza but controls all of the entrances and exits to and from Gaza, prevents the Palestinians from having an airport and seaport, there is no end to the occupation it is merely a redeployment of the occupation. If there is no real free link between Gaza and the West Bank, there can be no viable Palestinian state.

There is a price for peace, and everyone knows the price-tag. There are no secrets on any of the issues in conflict, and there are no magic formulas. Either we pay the price, or there is no peace.

There is also a time limit on the price-tag. The price does not increase with time. The possibility of paying the price disappears and, with it, the possibility for peace.

THERE MIGHT be messianic hopefuls on both sides who claim that we should wait, believing that time is on their side. There are those who claim that God will intervene and protect us, but it is very unlikely that God will suddenly intervene; God knows, he's had many opportunities to weigh in on the issue.

There are other kinds of messianics, who speak of a one-state solution. These dreamers are also living in fantasy-land. There is no one-state solution, and those of us living in the real world know we must take our fate into our own hands.

Mahmoud Abbas has presented his case with a sense of rational logic that has long been absent from Middle East politics. Bush has spoken the right words; let's hope his body language matches real steps that will save us from ourselves.

The announcement that General William Ward will expand his mandate and begin to coordinate the security arrangements of the disengagement is the necessary first step to achieving a peaceful disengagement. This is also the first requirement for the establishment of the Palestinian state. Those of us who believe that the only way to ensure a safe and secure Israel must applaud and support these positive steps.

Bush must now also ensure that both Israel and the Palestinians fulfill their road map commitments. Abbas was pleased with Bush's position on final status negotiations. Bush told Abbas that we cannot skip over phase II of the road map and we must enter into another interim agreement. This is the right step; the sides could not possibility successfully negotiate a permanent status agreement now.

The Palestinians should be seriously preparing for statehood. They can declare their state in all of the West Bank and Gaza and have east Jerusalem as part of their declaration.

The road map doesn't determine borders. As long as the Palestinians are continuing with their democratic reforms and the security services are taking on more responsibilities and acting with increased determination, we should all prepare ourselves for moving into the next phase.

Although Sharon states that we have not even begun phase I of the road map, the truth is that we are well into it, and after the disengagement Israel must catch up on its own obligations. There are many outposts waiting to be removed and real effective ceasing of settlement expansion must also happen.

It's easy to claim that the Palestinians are not implementing their part of the road map, but the reality shows an extremely significant decline in violence, and increasingly effective Palestinian governance developing on the ground.

It is time to stop the rhetoric and move into real steps.

The writer is the Israeli CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

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