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The Last Negotiation

Courtesy Reuters

CUT TO THE CHASE

Since the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the outbreak of the second intifada, two propositions have gained wide acceptance. The first is that trying to find a comprehensive solution to end the conflict has already been attempted -- and at this point, if tried again, can only fail. The second is that an interim solution is therefore the only way out of the current crisis and might succeed if properly implemented. The mounting death tolls on both sides seem to confirm the notion that conflict management rather than conflict resolution should be the order of the day, and that now is the time for taking incremental steps in order to rebuild the torn fabric of trust. In fact, now is precisely the time for a U.S.-led international coalition to put forward an end-of-conflict deal.

The idea that only incremental steps can resolve the current crisis flies in the face of the experience of the past decade. Everything Israelis and Palestinians have tried since 1993 has been of the interim sort -- whether the Oslo accords themselves, the 1995 Interim accords, the 1997 Hebron agreement, or the 1998 Wye memorandum. However sensible it may have seemed at the start, in practice the incremental approach has demonstrated serious shortcomings.

Lacking a clear and distinct vision of where they were heading, both sides treated the interim period not as a time to prepare for an ultimate agreement but as a mere warm-up to the final negotiations; not as a chance to build trust, but as an opportunity to optimize their bargaining positions. As a result, each side was determined to hold on to its assets until the endgame. Palestinians were loath to confiscate weapons or clamp down on radical groups; Israelis were reluctant to return territory or halt settlement construction. Grudging behavior by one side fueled grudging behavior by the other, leading to a vicious cycle of skirted obligations, clear-cut violations, and mutual recriminations.

By multiplying the number of obligations each

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