In 1958, at the height of the Algerian crisis, with Arabs bombing French cafés in Algiers, Paris tacitly condoning the use of torture by the occupying French army, and paratroop colonels demanding a free hand to end terror, the French philosopher Raymond Aron published a small book, L’Algérie et la République. Cutting through the emotive and historical claims of both sides, Aron explained in his characteristically cool prose why the French had to quit Algeria. France lacked both the will and the means either to impose French rule on the Arabs or to give Arabs an equal place in France. If the French stayed the situation would only deteriorate and they would inevitably leave at some later date—but under worse conditions and with a more embittered legacy. The damage that France was doing to Algerians was surpassed by the harm the Republic was bringing upon itself. However impossible the choice appeared, it was nonetheless very simple: France must go.
Many years later Aron was asked why he never engaged the heated questions of the time: torture, terrorism, the French policy of state-sponsored political assassination, Arab national claims, and the colonial heritage of the French. Everyone, he replied, was talking about these things; why add my voice? The point was no longer to analyze the origins of the tragedy, nor assign blame for it. The point was to do what had to be done.
In the cacophony of commentary and accusation swirling around the calamity in the Middle East, Aron’s icy clarity is sorely missed. For the solution to the Israel–Palestine conflict is also in plain sight. Israel exists. The Palestinians and other Arabs will eventually accept this; many already do. Palestinians can be neither expunged from “Greater Israel” nor integrated into it: if they were expelled into Jordan, the latter would explode, with disastrous consequences for Israel. Palestinians need a real state of their own and they will have one. The two states will be delineated in accordance with the map drawn up at the Taba negotiations in January 2001, according to which the 1967 borders will be modified, but nearly all of the occupied territories will come under Palestinian rule. The Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are thus foredoomed, and most of them will be dismantled, as many Israelis privately acknowledge.
There will be no Arab right of return; and it is time to abandon the anachronistic Jewish one. Jerusalem is already largely divided along ethnic lines and will, eventually, be the capital of both states. Since these states will have a common interest in stability and shared security concerns, they will learn in time to cooperate. Community- based organizations like Hamas, offered the chance to transform themselves from terrorist networks into political parties, will take this path. There are numerous precedents.
If this is the future of the region, then why is it proving so tragically hard to get there? Four years after Aron’s essay, De Gaulle extricated his countrymen from …