Heed a Friend's Words

The prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, has stood out among European leaders in his special friendship toward Israel. He has supported this country and has visited Jerusalem, even when his counterparts in the European Union were leveling sharp criticism at Israeli policies and keeping relations cool.

It would make sense, therefore, to heed his words, as published in yesterday's Haaretz, on the eve of his arrival as the head of a large delegation to visit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They cannot be dismissed, in the way that official Israeli spokespeople often do, as merely another expression of "European hostility."

Berlusconi fully supports peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, strenuously opposes terror and calls on Hamas to recognize Israel. But in his opinion, Israel too bears responsibility for advancing the peace process and it must cease its policy of settling the West Bank, which he sees as mistaken.

"It will never be possible to convince the Palestinians of Israel's good intentions while Israel continues to build in territories that are to be returned as part of a peace agreement," the Italian leader said.

In the same spirit, Berlusconi calls for peace between Israel and Syria as a basis for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East. The conditions for peace with Syria are, he said, known: the return of the Golan Heights in exchange for normalization and the cessation of Syria's support for organizations that are inimical to Israel.

Berlusconi cited Italy's participation in the UNIFIL force in Lebanon as an expression of his country's commitment to help in reaching a solution in the north.

Berlusconi also has demands of the Arab side. He backs internal Palestinian unity and the promotion of regional economic projects and he displayed understanding for Israel's apprehensions of continued violence after it withdraws from territory, as happened in Gaza.

But the main message borne by the guest from Rome concerns leadership. He believes that the attainment of peace requires leaders to display courage.

It is worth Netanyahu's while to heed the advice of his Italian friend. Instead of wasting time with redundant propaganda wars with the Palestinian Authority, and currying favor with the right by planting unneeded trees in settlements, Netanyahu must tirelessly push for peace with Syria, and explain to the public that the freeze on construction in the settlements is only the first step in the undoing of this harmful enterprise and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories. Even his best friend in Europe thinks so.