Toward the end of the futile British colonial war in Cyprus in the late 1950s, the great Labour leader Aneurin Bevan got up in the House of Commons and asked the Tory government directly: Did they want a base in Cyprus? Or all of Cyprus as a base? Those at the debate say it was a real historical moment, and that you could see the change of expression on the faces of the Cabinet ministers. Was it possible they could maintain a position on the island without committing themselves to an endless regime of repression over a people who neither wanted them nor recognized their legitimacy? What had once seemed an impossibly bloody dilemma was resolved in about a year.

The peace movement is always trying to do favors of this kind to intransigent authorities. And Cyprus, as it happens, was one of the territories canvassed by Theodor Herzl when he began the search for a Jewish national home (the British government finally told him there were too many Turkish Muslims in their colony). There isn't space here to rehearse all the subsequent contradictions of the Zionist enterprise. The most salient one at the moment is this: Having gone to the Arab world in search of security, and having begun a colonizing process in the Middle East just as Europe was giving it up, the Israelis now tell us every day of their insecurity and of the daily imminence of their destruction. They are now at war–bitter and intimate war–with the fourth generation of those they originally offended. So the question becomes, as it was when the Balfour Declaration was promulgated in 1917: Do they want a Jewish homeland in Palestine, or all of Palestine as a Jewish state?

If it is the former then the solution is a relatively simple one. An Israeli state of roughly 1948 dimensions can easily be brought inside the defense perimeter of the West, however defined, and have its frontiers internationally guaranteed. It's idle for Israeli hawks to protest that they can only rely on their own resources in a time of crisis. The rest of the time they insist on a constant flow of arms and aid from the outside powers upon whom they have always depended. This is not an argument they can expect to have, indefinitely, both ways (independence from the vagaries of gentile goodwill is yet another of the original Zionist aims that has turned into its own obverse).

If General Sharon were offered or promised such a solution, accompanied by the most solemn international guarantees, he would not wish to accept it. This is because, in the original inscriptions of his movement and his party, Judea and Samaria are not required for security but as the vindication of a messianic, expansionist dream. Nobody in search of Jewish safety would place Jewish settlements in Gaza at a time like this, or indeed any other time. It follows that an international commitment to Israeli security would have, as its necessary counterpart, an absolute refusal to pay a single cent for colonization or expansion. Then we would see who really wanted what, and at what risk, or price.

You can do the same thought experiment in a different way by following the alarming rhetoric swirling through Washington. Seeking to cash in on the only just war they have ever supported, Israel's more extreme partisans insist that the PLO and the other Palestinian movements are the equivalents of Al Qaeda. Never mind for now that Al Qaeda is a golem produced by our own surrogates in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The fact is that the analogy is quite without merit. Are American and British soldiers preparing to help Sharon reoccupy Gaza or re-establish the old security zone in South Lebanon? Of course not. Why not? The question answers itself, while exposing the moral frivolity of those who like to confuse the categories.

There used to be an old Israeli slogan employed to quell misgivings in the Diaspora: Ein breirah ("No alternative"). There is never no alternative. The choices now condense themselves into four quite vivid ones. The first is the indefinite continuation of the status quo. The second is the extension of Israeli citizenship to all inhabitants of the territories controlled or claimed by Israel. The third is a "transfer," or expulsion, of the Palestinian population. The fourth is a Palestinian state.

The first of these is, at last, universally admitted to be insufferable (and now to be insufferable not just for the Palestinians, who were its main victims until recently). The second is utopian in the saddest sense of that term. The third would be an outrage, incidentally precipitating a thousand-year war in the region. The fourth only makes sense if it means a contiguous and self-governing state with its own dignity. It is widely and erroneously believed that this has already been proposed and rejected, though in fact Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians less, by way of control over roads, water, land and security, than the ever-multiplying settlers already enjoy under Israel's protection.

There is a potential fifth alternative, about which friends of the Palestinians are obliged to say something. Quite evidently, a large number of the youngest generation, especially in the hell of Gaza, have been won to a rejectionist position, based on dead-end Islamist preaching. It's no accident that the special symbols of this movement are murder and suicide: a double negation. (A state that enshrines the antique murder-suicide citadel of Masada can presumably recognize primeval zealotry when it sees it.) But this fifth, nightmarish option is actually the bastard product of the above quadrilateral of choices, as can be seen from the insane Washington demand that Arafat remain stateless but act like a dictator, and that he accomplish today in Gaza what Israel in thirty-four years could not, even when it had the powers of martial law.

Almost without comment, it is assumed that an ethnic or religious connection to the conflict is a necessary qualification in the American debate on the subject. Only Jewish or Arab spokesmen are summoned to the studios or to the Op-Ed pages. This local cultural failing is the counterpart of a unique investment in sectarianism in the Levant–an investment that is about to collapse from diminishing returns and bring the pillars of the temple down with it. The most urgent nation-building on our agenda is therefore the overdue task of creating a homeland for the people of Palestine.