Thursday, April 05, 2007

Novak: Olmert, Bush Blocking Peace Deal

Bob Novak writes from Israel, where he's doing some digging on the state of possible peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Reading what he has to say, you might infer that he thinks Nancy Pelosi's screwed-up message from Israel to Syria is the one that ought to have been sent:

The atmosphere has changed since I was here for Holy Week a year ago. Israeli self-confidence then was at a peak, with the newly installed Olmert openly avowing the unilateral solution to the Palestinian problem developed by his predecessor, Ariel Sharon. Behind that posture was confidence in military superiority. The unhappy results of the Lebanon incursion have modified Israeli expectations and caused a different tone. Olmert publicly indicates a willingness to talk, and the Haaretz newspaper quoted him as saying the Arabs' Riyadh summit "is evidence of a change."

But the moderates attending Tuesday's conference viewed this as rhetoric. Olmert told Rice here last week that any negotiations must be preceded by the release of the Israeli soldier seized by Hamas fighters last June 25.

The broader pre-conditions for talks are Olmert's refusals to include in negotiations any discussion of a return of Arab refugees to greater Palestine and a withdrawal of Israel to its 1967 borders. Negotiating those points does not mean that they will be conceded. Indeed, Bush in 2004 assured Sharon of U.S. guarantees against a massive return of Palestinian refugees or a rollback to unsafe borders. But setting pre-conditions for talks is a classic mechanism for escaping talks altogether.

Indeed, Olmert continues a boycott policy against the Palestinian Authority because of Hamas' election victory and Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister. The presence of Hamas in the Palestinian government is cited as justification for the absence of anybody from the negotiating table.

Novak points to the Lebanon incursion as the reason that Olmert's stance has shifted, and suggests that the participation of Hamas in the Palestinian government is merely an excuse for not talking. But as long as the Palestinian people continue to choose a terrorist organization such as Hamas to represent them, how can good-faith negotiations take place? Surely the Palestinians must first recognize that you cannot have a peaceful two-state solution when their government maintains that the other state ought not exist.

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