At the rate the Palestinians and Israelis are going, you can almost calculate the day there will be no one left on either side.

What we can't calculate as well is when either or both sides will decide they have had enough, and some other form of working things out takes over.

As you have heard me say before, I think the Palestinians were wrong to reject the peace deal they had in their hand during the closing days of the Clinton administration.

But I also think Ariel Sharon has got himself a big problem. The big Israeli crackdown isn't working so well. Sure, three times as many Palestinians are dying, but when the Israeli death toll jumps daily, it's hard to imagine that this constitutes a politically sustainable trend.

I hesitate to say what I think should happen because someone who has more experience and more expertise on this matter — which would be almost anyone who has lived or worked in the region — will tell me to shut up.

But, here's a question: Even Sharon has said that the Palestinians will have their own country. If this country has borders, with a part of Jerusalem as its capital, and if the Palestinian people have jobs and industry and a decent standard of living… will the urge to kill Israelis subside?

Do the Palestinians and their bankers in much richer Arab countries so hate Israel and so hate the idea of Israel that they will stop at nothing until either it or they are gone?

If the latter is the case, then a radical idea floating around Israeli circles will have much more currency. And that is... drive the Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank, seal the borders, let the Israelis thrive inside, leaving the Palestinians and Arabs to do the best they can outside.

A wider war would then be threatened by Arab nations, which would have their hand stayed by Israel's nuclear threat, and we'd settle into an ugly status quo for decades — if not centuries.

All that bad stuff can happen, or some less bad stuff can happen if people decide to talk instead of shoot, if they decide to live by their promises instead of break them with bombs.

I hope they all learn to get along. They don't have to like each other. Just not killing each other will be good enough.

That's My Word.

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