After an exhausting odyssey, it seems that the Obama administration has finally managed to get the peace process going again. Although the dispute over the construction freeze in East Jerusalem has precluded direct bilateral talks, the proximity talks will break the ice that has been clogging up the Israeli-Palestinian track for over a year. Regrettably, the good news was received in Jerusalem with a demonstrative chill and a lowering of the already modest expectations that the talks will bring peace any closer.
On Monday, Barak Ravid reported in this paper that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would initially seek to focus the talks on security arrangements in the West Bank and water issues. Nobel laureate author Elie Wiesel said he got the feeling that U.S. President Barack Obama understands and respects his advice to hold off on discussions about the future of Jerusalem until a later stage.
It's no wonder that - as the head of the Military Intelligence research division, Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, has said - the Palestinians interested in negotiations do not believe that Netanyahu and his government intend to make progress toward a final-status agreement.
The sourness with which the government is anticipating the talks was expressed in the decision to present to the cabinet (and the public ) a Palestinian "incitement index," of all things. A senior official reported that with the opening of the indirect negotiations Israel would demand that the Palestinians act to stop anti-Israel incitement and promote education toward peace. Now that acts of violence have almost entirely disappeared, the (justified ) criticism of incitement has taken the lead in the diversionary war that some senior ministers are waging against the peace process.
If the government genuinely wants to put an end to the conflict it will have to find a way to speed up negotiations and restore the Palestinian neighbors' confidence in it. If Netanyahu really believes in what he said in his Bar-Ilan speech, he must honor the commitment made by his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, at the Annapolis conference, and continue with a practical discussion of all core issues, mainly permanent borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.
The proximity talks are not a call-in program taking listener requests. The time has passed for the Palestinian Authority, and even the U.S. government, to dance to the tune of the Israeli piper. The hour has come for the decision makers to realize that time is working against the world's only Jewish democratic state. Netanyahu and his advisers would do well to drop their stalling tactics and direct their energy toward advancing the solution of two states for two peoples.
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