During lunch at a friend's home last week, a very bright teenager asked his parents' guests: "What do you think it would take for Israel to survive until the end of the century?" A sharp kid, he wanted real answers, not cant.
The response, upon which there was general agreement, was the two-state solution. One guest said, "Bush's words. Two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, in peace and security."
No one offered any other suggestion, although there were certainly differences in the group about how to achieve that solution. The divide was not over the rightness of the two-state idea but rather how to get there, how fast, and what the United States should do to move it along.
The general acceptance among pro-Israel Jewish Americans of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is relatively new. In college in the early '70s, I attended a student reception with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. The students were a pretty liberal bunch, mostly identified with left-wing Zionist organizations.
When one youth had the temerity to ask Golda about a Palestinian state, he was not only curtly dismissed, but pretty much hooted down by the other students. Not only was there no room for a Palestinian state, the idea of a Palestinian people was itself a fiction. Israel would negotiate an end to the "refugee problem" with the Jordanians. Something would be worked out. But a state? Never!
That seems like 100 years ago. Today, the creation of a Palestinian state is accepted across the board. And no one seriously argues that the Palestinian people do not exist.
Getting back to that teenager's question, it's not hard to conjure up alternative answers. "Israel will defeat the Palestinians once and for all, and they will accept Israel's permanent presence in the West Bank." "Israel will unilaterally annex the parts of the West Bank it needs, and the Palestinians will have to live with it." "Israel will annex the territories but to avoid an Arab majority, it will not give Palestinians voting rights." "Israel will transfer the Palestinians to Jordan - and be finished with them."
The difficult part is not imagining the alternatives to two states, but believing that anyone could take them seriously. Besides, they do not address the original question. They would not guarantee that Israel would survive until 2099, but rather ensure that it wouldn't.
Unfortunately, the two-state solution is viewed in some quarters as no longer feasible. The expansion of West Bank settlements and the security barrier have, many believe, made it very difficult to envision the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
Some leading Palestinians have gone on record as stating that the two-state solution is dead, and that the Palestinians should focus not on gaining the West Bank, but on demanding voting rights in all the Israeli-held territories in the certain knowledge that, within a few years, Israel will cease being a Jewish state.
Fortunately, the consensus behind the two-state solution is growing, most notably in Washington.
This was evidenced by Bush's May 26 reference to the 1949 armistice lines as the baseline for negotiations - combined with his declaration that any changes in those lines must be acceptable to both sides. This is evidence that Bush's thinking on a final-status agreement is very much in line with that of his predecessors. There will be two states and the borders will, with minor modifications to ensure Israel's security, closely resemble the pre-'67 lines.
By the end of next month, Gaza will be Palestinian territory. References to the "West Bank and Gaza" as "occupied territory" will disappear as the focus returns, as it should, to the West Bank.
During her visit to the region last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made it clear that, as far as the administration is concerned, the Gaza withdrawal is a good first step, but only a step. If Palestinians work to ensure that Gaza is peaceful - that it in no way becomes a staging ground for attacks against Israel - they will be able to count on Rice to push for movement on the West Bank.
The message is clear: Regardless of what the Israelis do or don't do, Palestinians can help secure their future by securing Gaza.
M.J. Rosenberg is the director of policy analysis for Israel Policy Forum.