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In the name of peace, Israelis and Palestinians should become European

Membership in the EU would be a win-win-win.

By Richard N. Rosecrance, Ehud Eiran / November 26, 2008

Cambridge, Mass.

Scratch just a bit under the hope generated by the coming electoral changes in Washington, Jerusalem, and maybe Ramallah, and you discover deep despair about the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

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The roads taken in the last 15 years in pursuit of a deal – the negotiations since Oslo, the unilateralism of the Gaza disengagement, and even the violence since the (second) Intifada – all failed.

The opponents of an agreement did not waste that time, however: The number of Israeli settlers grew almost threefold since the early days of the peace process, making a territorial compromise even more difficult.

Political leadership on both sides offers little hope for reconciliation. The Palestinian national movement is weak and deeply divided. The coming Israeli elections will most likely bring about a more hawkish Israeli Parliament, if not a more conservative prime minister.

A sense of hopelessness has reached even the most committed peace activists. The Palestinian activist Sari Nusseibeh, for example, wondered publicly if territorial compromise is still an option. And Israel's Yossi Beilin recently announced that he will retire from politics altogether.

Israelis and Palestinians need a new vision. They need a vision that will include a powerful incentive not only to get the train of negotiations back on track, but will also outline a final destination for its journey. With the lessons of the failed Oslo process before us, it is clear now that a future peace agreement needs to respond to the deepest grievances and darkest fears of both sides.

To find a path forward, we need to go back to the origins of it all. It was Europe's violent rejection of Jews in the past that begat modern Zionism and paradoxically contributed to its success. Once the problem, Europe may now be the solution. To both encourage and reward a territorial and security agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, it should offer a clear path for their membership in the European Union.

It could help the parties fashion a settlement. The prospect of joining the richest union of states on earth is an enormous incentive for reaching a deal. The union's organization and values offer the frame for a peace agreement.