The visit to Israel this week by U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, along with American Middle East envoy George Mitchell's meetings here, testify to the United States' readiness to not miss the opportunity to advance the peace process. The latest American diplomatic effort comes on the heels of the Arab League granting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas qualified "permission" to conduct indirect talks with Israel - which also represents an important gesture on the part of those countries that have signed on to the Arab peace initiative.
On the other hand, a recent Israeli Foreign Ministry report indicates that the U.S. administration has no intention of expending too great an effort to achieve a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the Obama administration's positions are closer to those held by the Palestinians than to Israel's stance.
Israel and the Palestinians must decide which of the two perspectives they will embrace: either the view that hope is still not abandoned, or the one that dampens expectations entirely. If Israel intends to do nothing more than evade responsibility for the failure of the peace process and placate the U.S. administration until the expiration of the settlement construction freeze, it would be better not to launch the indirect talks at all. Every past diplomatic step that turned out to be nothing more than another exercise in evasion only served to push the peace process several substantial steps backward, leaving in its wake great despair and frustration that gave rise to more violence.
Israel is not entitled to simply shrug its shoulders at the revival of the peace process - not only because its standing in the world has sunk and its relations with the United States have declined to mere diplomatic correctness. All the signs in the territories point to the danger of a descent into violence and even a third intifada. The revival of the peace process is an essential step in halting this deterioration in the short run, and ending the conflict in the long term. In the four months during which the indirect talks are set to be conducted, the Israeli government must invest every effort in convincing its own citizens, first of all, that it indeed intends to refrain from its sleights of hand and to take the negotiations seriously.
Subsequently, the state must freeze construction in the settlements unequivocally and without delay. That will allow the process to advance to the stage of direct talks. There is no other channel of negotiations. The ridiculous recent public service announcements encouraging Israelis to explain the "other" Israel to the world, cannot be a substitute for a serious policy articulating hope for a breakthrough.
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