Monday, November 2, 2009

Israeli settlements are not the problem in Middle East

Maybe if most Arab nations were democracies that acted only with the approval of their citizens, they would more-easily be able to understand what has happened to the Middle East peace process. It's fairly obvious that U.S. President Barack Obama, who perhaps unwisely raised expectations in the Arab world about changing this country's policies toward Israel, has acquired a greater appreciation of what Jerusalem has been telling him about peacemaking with the Palestinian Authority. Israel's willingness to compromise, which has varied over time, has never produced a lasting agreement because Palestinian leaders have been unwilling to prepare their people for the possibility of peace -- probably out of fear for their own safety -- after years of agitating for war. Israeli intransigence is not the chief cause of the decades-long deadlock; rather, it's the refusal of the Palestinians and of most of the countries in the region to plan for a future that includes their Jewish cousins. That's why it was kind of sad to see U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton go traipsing around the Arab world this week trying to convince those countries to accept Israel's partial settlement freeze proposal and return to peace talks, as the Reuters international news service reported. The Palestinian Authority still thinks its warlike posture toward Israel, a posture supported by its Arab backers, is the best way to achieve its goal -- a Middle East without Israel. That's why previous overly generous Israeli peace offers that included the sharing of Jerusalem were rejected by Palestinian authorities. Now, with the election of a conservative government in Israel, such offers are almost certainly off the table. But a readers of this blog know, Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank is not an obstacle to true peace in the region. What it does complicate, however, is the kind of peace that is merely the absence of war. If Palestinians and Israelis are going to live side-by-side in the long term, it won't matter what country they live in assuming their rights are respected and protected. The fact that this has yet not occurred to anyone in the region strongly suggests that none of the parties is prepared to come to anything more than an interim agreement, if at all.

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