Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stating the obvious

News that Syria has agreed to join the United States-sponsored Middle East peace conference at Annapolis, Md., this week should bring some hope, but not much, that the 16 nations will make some progress toward solving the seemingly intractable dispute between Israel and Arab nations. Syria is coming because it has received some assurance that the status of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel for more than 40 years, could be on the agenda. But let's be realistic. Syria cannot possibly expect any progress on this issue if all it only will consider the return of the territory without agreeing to anything else. Plus, the Israelis just bombed a suspected reactor site in Syria, an ally of Iran. But the primary focus of the meeting is on the Israel-Palestinian issue, which is a crisis because Israel's neighbors don't want Palestinian Arabs to live in their countries. That's why millions are still living in teeming refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan -- in addition to the West Bank -- after 40 years. Why haven't they been assimilated by the societies they live in? Because the Arab states still expect to resolve these issues by eliminating the state of Israel and the millions of Jews who live there. Why else would the Palestinian Authority consider Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be an obstacle to peace? If a Palestinian state is going to be set up alongside Israel, wouldn't you expect the two countries to be living in peace? That means free travel between them, not forcing citizens of each state to open their trousers before they can cross the borders. And that means Jews living in Arab countries. Of course, the fact that Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, has already stated he will refuse to shake hands with the Israeli delegation cannot be seen as anything but a sign of what's ahead -- a lot of rhetoric, little substance.

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