For the first time in years, the prospects are looking rosier for a peace - of sorts - in the Middle East.
Consider events in the region over the past two-and-a-half years, beginning with the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative council elections, in January 2006. At that point, Hamas, an organisation dedicated to war against the Jewish people (just read the Hamas founding Charter), could claim some sort of moral high ground. The elections were reasonably free and fair. Tainted with the stink of corruption and the stench of gross incompetence, the Fatah party of Yasser Arafat's successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, suffered a well-deserved drubbing at the polls.
Hamas renewed its demand for perpetual jihad against "the Zionist entity". It opposed, therefore, and continues to oppose, any definitive peace with the Jewish state, offering instead a hudna - a truce. In the latest version in April 2008, it proposed to cease armed hostilities for 10 years provided Israel's economic blockade of its Gaza redoubt was lifted and that Israel returned to its de facto 1949 borders.
This offer was naturally rejected on the Israeli side. But it had been preceded by rocket attacks against Israeli civilians (by definition, war crimes) and by a military coup against the remnants of the Fatah leadership in Gaza. "Palestine" has effectively partitioned itself. Hamas rules by terror in Gaza. Fatah rules, uneasily, on the West Bank courtesy of American money and Israeli goodwill.
It is worth remembering that until very recently there had been little international censure of the violent means Palestinians used to police themselves. But in 2006 Amnesty International condemned Hamas - and like organisations, notably Islamic Jihad - for "crimes against humanity". This year Amnesty went further, declaring the laughable apparatuses of justice and security installed by Hamas in Gaza as lacking "appropriately trained personnel, accountability mechanisms and human rights safeguards".
Meanwhile, in the summer of 2006, a short, intensive war was fought on Israel's northern border with Lebanon. In its aftermath many observers declared that this war, if not a Hizbollah victory, amounted to an Israeli defeat. I did not, and do not, share this view. It is true that the immediate objective of Israel in waging this war - the release of IDF soldiers kidnapped by Hizbollah - was not achieved. But we now know that this objective was incapable of fulfilment, because the soldiers in question had been murdered by the Hizbollah government of south Lebanon. As utterly distasteful as it might seem, the TV footage of their coffins being handed over to Israel a few weeks ago appears to have resonated deeply with "informed opinion" in the UK.
As for Hizbollah, its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is so fearful for his own safety that he is rarely seen in public these days. Lebanon, like "Palestine", is in fact partitioned. Hizbollah is effectively a satellite of Iran, and for that reason is suspect in Syrian eyes. Following the Hizbollah war, Syrian President Assad was cock-a-hoop. As soon as he could, Assad travelled to Moscow to congratulate Russian President Medvedev on his crushing victory in Georgia. But if Bashar Assad thought he would return to Damascus laden with Russian armaments he was sadly mistaken. Now, through the good offices of Turkey, the Syria-Israel dialogue is apparently turning into a serious peace negotiation.
In the wake of all these developments there came, last week, a startling declaration by 27 leading Palestinian politicians. The Palestinian Strategy Study Group (as they term themselves) called for an end to negotiations for a "two-state solution" ("Palestine" and Israel), and for "the cessation of resistance and armed struggle". It suggested instead a form of "smart" resistance, namely the demand for a single "bi-national" state encompassing Israel, Judea, Samaria and Gaza, to which (naturally) all Palestinian "refugees" would have the right of return, with guarantees of political and religious equality for all.
There is - of course - not the slightest chance that Israel would accept such a solution, which would amount to the dissolution of the Jewish state. In a territorial polity in which Hamas-inclined Islamists ruled the roost one can easily imagine the fate of Jewish (and Christian) minorities.
The importance of the proposal does not, therefore, lie in its practicality, which is nil, but rather in what it tells us about the Palestinian state of mind. This strange organism may at last be on the verge of accepting that "armed struggle" has led precisely nowhere.