In the Arena

Middle East Pieces

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Les Gelb is certainly right that bribing the Israelis with $3 billion in military equipment in return for a 90-day West Bank settlement freeze is a terrible idea. The payment should be reserved for a more substantial commitment from the Israelis–a complete and permanent halt to settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are, after all, illegal.

But Gelb is dead wrong in asking the Palestinians to take another step for peace at this point–going to the Knesset and announcing support for a “Jewish state of Israel”–especially when it’s the Israelis, not the West Bank Palestinians, who are the impediment to peace right now. (Hamas-controlled Gaza is another story.) Indeed, the West Bank Palestinians have fulfilled almost all their requirements under the “Road Map” launched by the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of the UN, EU and the Russians. Indeed, the West Bank government, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, has been the most responsible and serious in Palestinian history. The Netanyahu government, on the other hand, has been among the least responsible in Israeli history. It is populated by anti-Arab bigots like Foreign Minister Avigdore Lieberman; it has eased security somewhat on the West Bank, but it continues to build settlements in the Palestinian capital of East Jerusalem. (As far as recognition of the Jewish state of Israel goes, that’s the sort of symbolic gesture–there is de facto recognition, since the Palestinians are negotiating with the Israelis, or trying to–that comes out of true peace settlement.)

I’m as pessimistic about the peace process as anyone. But it is, clearly, Israel’s responsibility to make the next move, not the West Bank Palestinians. And there is only one move that Bibi Netanyahu can make if he really wants a two-state solution: dissolve his government and form a new one with Kadima–which received the most votes in Israel’s elections two years ago. The real negotiation that needs to take place now is between Bibi and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni.