A Peaceful and Permanent Solution to the Middle East Conflict Is Now More Pressing Than Ever; as the Bloodshed Continues in Gaza, Political Correspondent David Williamson Assesses the Possible Future Options for the Region

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Byline: David Williamson

The Israeli incursion into Gaza and the Hamas rocket attacks provide graphic proof that the peace process pursued with passion by US President Bill Clinton in the 1990s is in ruins.

Control of the Palestinian territories is split between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. The antipathy of the two groups has brought further instability to the region and stripped Israel of a strong negotiating partner.

A new strategy for peace must be swiftly established when the present violence ends if any hope of progress is to be resurrected.

Some academics and commentators have concluded that the two-state solution - an independent Palestine alongside a secure Israel - is dead and that the only viable model is a South African-style "binational state".

This would involve merging Israel and the territories into a single country. However, many Israelis believe this is nothing but a strategy to destroy the country's Jewish identity.

President-elect Barack Obama's campaign has stated: "Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state should never be challenged" and the one-state concept is unlikely to gain traction in the near future.

Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk in 2003 called for an international governing force to run Gaza and the West Bank as a "trusteeship" for the Palestinian people.

The United Nations held back ethnic violence and helped build civil society in Kosovo but the continuing debacle in Iraq will dissuade many policymakers from sending armed troops into a Middle East country.

Mr Indyk has since scaled down his original vision but recognises that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is weakened if it is seen to depend on the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

If a UN force provided some of the security in the West Bank this could allow the IDF to leave and could bolster perceptions of the PA's independence.

However, the leaders of many countries would baulk at the idea of sending soldiers to run the detested roadblocks.

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, argues the time has come to look at a "three state" solution, with Jordan gaining control of the West Bank and Egypt ruling Gaza.

The proposal will almost certainly be greeted with horror by all four players, but in the long-term it is possible Palestinians could see this as an escape from impoverishment, instability and danger. …