This week marks the 45th anniversary of the Six-Day War. It was a war of necessity for Israel -- Egypt and Syria, in particular, had manifested themselves as existential threats to the then-19-year-old Jewish state (Jordan less so) -- and it was a war whose first phase ended in unambiguous victory. The second phase, which is to say, the next 45 years, hasn't ended, and it hasn't been so fantastic for Israel in a couple of respects, mainly because successive Israeli governments succumbed to the (understandable, from a certain point of view) temptation to settle the West Bank (the most highly populated of the territories Israel captured in the war) with religious pioneers. The settlers today represent the vanguard of binationalism, not the vanguard of Zionism -- if the stay in the West Bank permanently, they will most likely forestall the creation of a Palestinian state. No Palestinian state = a very difficult future for Israel as a democracy.
The time is not exactly propitious for peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians: The Palestinian Authority is weak and corrupt, and does not even control a big chunk of the territory it would theoretically rule. That territory, Gaza, is under the control of Hamas, which would like to take control of the Palestinian Authority itself. That would, of course, represent a clarifying change in Middle East reality. But what it wouldn't change is the fact that it is untenable for Israel to maintain control over large numbers of Palestinians. Hence, the attractiveness of unilateralism. Ariel Sharon liked the idea of unilateral withdrawal so much he pulled out from Gaza not only its Jewish settlers, but the army as well. Pulling out the army without a negotiated agreement gave an easy victory to Hamas, and led to the group's takeover of the Strip. But unilateralism, nevertheless, isn't dead; just last week, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, proposed unspecified unilateral moves in the West Bank -- presumably a settlement pullback and the drawing of provisional borders -- if the peace process doesn't move forward.