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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peace Will Require New Leadership

The scene is depressingly familiar. Yasser Arafat, the slippery Palestinian leader, adds his voice to his people's consensus on the urgent need for political reform while saying -- and doing -- nothing to indicate he seriously intends to pursue it. Ariel Sharon, Israel's pro-settler prime minister, has his plan to co-opt the opposition Labor party behind a proposed withdrawal from Gaza rejected by his own Likud party, enabling him to continue posturing as a man of the center and beleaguered peacemaker. The reality is that there will be no resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict while these two leaders remain in power.

The Palestinians face the more difficult circumstances as the much weaker party in the conflict, feeling abandoned by the international community and enduring a state of siege under Israeli occupation. Much as political and civic leaders press Arafat and his cronies to organize and mobilize Palestinian society on democratic lines, their all too natural tendency is to circle the wagons in the face of a common enemy. That suits Sharon and his allies, who have no wish to see a strong and legitimate leadership with a coherent strategy to secure a viable Palestinian homeland.

Yet Sharon's difficulty in pushing through a partial withdrawal scheme enormously to Israel's benefit shows how poisonous the fight over sharing the Holy Land has become. Nearly four years into the second intifada, it would appear beyond the Israeli political class to agree on a deal that is beyond most contemporary Zionist dreams.

In April, Sharon got U.S. President George W. Bush to endorse his plan, which would leave Israel in control of roughly half the occupied West Bank -- and therefore nearly 90 percent of mandate Palestine -- and all for giving up Gaza, a territory no Israeli leader has ever sought to keep.

Sharon this week ignored his pledges to Washington to freeze colonization of the West Bank, announcing 1,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers; last year housing starts in the settlements rose 35 percent while construction inside Israel fell by 15 percent. Yet still he cannot carry his irredentist party. He could push through his Gaza plan by grafting Labor onto his coalition, but that would not necessarily advance the cause of peace. It was Labor, after all, under leaders such as Shimon Peres, who now so wants to join the Sharon government, that presided over the biggest expansion of the settlements -- at the height of the Oslo peace process.

Despite everything, however, consistent majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians continue to believe peace is possible. What they have not been able to do is wrench the initiative from leaders who cannot or will not respond to that belief with more than lip service. A Gaza withdrawal and Palestinian reform are, of course, worth having now. But peace will require those who want it to produce alternative leaders to Sharon and Arafat.

This comment originally appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.