President Barack Obama has finally coaxed Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. He and most Americans hope that the talks will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, that is not going to happen. Instead, those territories are almost certain to be incorporated into a "Greater Israel," which will then be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa.

There are four possible futures regarding Israel and the occupied territories. The outcome that gets the most attention is the two-state solution, where a Palestinian state would control 95 percent or more of the West Bank and all of Gaza, and territorial swaps would compensate the Palestinians for those small pieces of the West Bank that Israel would keep. East Jerusalem would be its capital.

The alternatives to a two-state solution all involve creating a Greater Israel — an Israel that effectively controls Gaza and the West Bank. In the first scenario, it would become a democratic binational state in which Palestinians and Jews enjoy equal political rights. This solution would mean abandoning the original Zionist vision of a Jewish state, since Palestinians would eventually outnumber Jews.

Israel could also expel most of the Palestinians from Greater Israel, preserving its Jewish character through ethnic cleansing. Something similar happened in 1948, when the Zionists drove 700,000 Palestinians out of the territory that became Israel. The final alternative is some form of apartheid, whereby Israel increases its control over the occupied territories, but allows the Palestinians to exercise limited autonomy in a set of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves.

The two-state solution is the best of these alternatives, but most Israelis are opposed to making the sacrifices that would be necessary to create a viable Palestinian state. There are about 480,000 settlers in the occupied territories and an extensive infrastructure of connector and bypass roads, not to mention the settlements themselves. A Hebrew University Truman Institute poll in March of West Bank settlers found that 21 percent believe that "all means must be employed to resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms." They needn't worry, however, because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to expanding the settlements throughout the occupied territories.,0,5290017.story