Peace talks AP 2.9.2010
Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas at talks in Washington D.C., September 2, 2010. Photo by AP
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The New York Times reported last week that the rise in the number of U.S. college students learning American Sign Language has exceeded the increase in enrollment figures for Spanish, French and German - the top three most popular foreign languages on campuses, respectively. Have words lost their force, to be replaced by gestures? Has the number of the deaf, or those who refuse to hear, grown so much? Could so many U.S. students be planning on diplomatic service in the Middle East?

It was clear from statements made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy on Friday that she did not study A.S.L. in college. Her tone was firm, but that was just to disguise the emptiness of her words. It was a speech of helplessness and of denial. Once again, U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell is going to head over here to shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah and leave without a trace.

Political culture demands evenhandedness. It's unacceptable to blame just one side for halting the peace process, so both sides are accused of being too cowardly to make the difficult decisions.

It's not quite clear what more the Palestinians could have done. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad tried and succeeded in neutralizing Hamas, reining in terror and imposing law and order in the West Bank while accelerating economic development despite all the obstacles.

By contrast, it's hard to figure out what exactly Israel's positive contribution to the effort was but quite easy to see its negative role. The whole world knows that it's impossible to negotiate in good faith when facts are being created on the ground whose sole purpose is to overturn the negotiating table. Would Israel agree to talk in such circumstances?

Surprisingly, it was Defense Minister Ehud Barak who on Friday proposed a fair, logical plan that underscored his terrible missed opportunity at Camp David in 2000 and further upped the ante on the biggest question of all: What is he still doing in the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Yishai government, acting as a fig leaf?

It would have been much more encouraging had Clinton clearly signaled, in A.S.L, that Washington has a new plan - not just "asking tough questions and expecting substantive answers," as she put it, but primarily giving good answers, putting forth its own detailed, comprehensive plan that solves all the core issues and is based on President Bill Clinton's blueprints, on the Taba talks and on the 2002 Arab League resolutions.

Such a plan stands a greater chance of gaining the support of the Quartet, of the U.N. Security Council and of a majority of U.N. member states. Much of the Arab world would also support it. Such a plan, once put forth, would separate those who choose to join the international community from those who choose to stay outside in the cold.