The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has become an empty phrase since Israel's elections, interchangeable with the word "daydreaming." On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted on conditions that will prevent a renewal of the process such as Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, or not freezing construction in East Jerusalem. On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted on freezing all Israeli construction over the Green Line, even after Washington gave Israel "discounts."
Over the past few days, a crack seems to be opening in the ice, and the peace process has a chance to be revived. Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, presented the outlines of a plan and was even praised by the Egyptian foreign ministry. Abbas is also willing to move ahead; reports from his visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt indicate that he is ready to be more flexible in his conditions.
These positive signs must be encouraged, because when peace talks are frozen they are replaced by another, more threatening and dangerous dialogue. It's not just a question of whether there will be a third intifada, a discussion that is gaining sway on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. It's a matter of renewed terror in the West Bank, which has enjoyed relative quiet under the control of the Palestinian security forces.
This calm can flourish if it is nourished by the hope of a better future. A lack of diplomatic prospects could generate a new wave of terror, as the head of the Shin Bet secur ity service, Yuval Diskin, warned last week. Experienced Israelis and Palestinians are all too familiar with this formula. So we must try immediately to revive the negotiations. The parties know full well what the disputes are and which agreements have been reached in the past. They especially understand the danger if the diplomatic stalemate continues.
Abbas and Netanyahu must sweep away preconditions to renew the talks, even if such conditions are justified. A construction freeze in the settlements, even if it is not total, and adopting the two-state principle are appropriate incentives to get the Palestinians back to the table. Palestinian security control of the West Bank is the "goods" Israel has always demanded. Now is the time to resuscitate the road map's other conditions and begin a new stage in the peace process.
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