The New York Times (Editorial)
April 3, 2008 - 5:17pm

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s latest trip to Israel and Jordan came at a time when anger and frustration among ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are building to dangerous levels. This was a moment for American leadership and direction. Unfortunately, the moment was once again allowed to slip away.

Surely, Ms. Rice understands that Woody Allen’s “80 percent of success is showing up” does not apply to the deadly serious business of Middle East peacemaking.

Yet despite 14 trips to the region in the past 15 months — and the November peace conference in Annapolis — Ms. Rice has frighteningly little to show for her presence.

If anything, the two sides are farther apart than they were in November, and Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, have less room to maneuver.

Israel marked Ms. Rice’s visit by agreeing to remove 50 of its roadblocks restricting travel in the West Bank. That leaves 530, roughly the same number as at the start of 2007. Any goodwill was erased when, hours after she departed, Israel announced its intention to build 800 new homes for Jewish families in the West Bank. Mr. Abbas promised more energetic efforts against terrorism — a promise he has made before — and agreed to end his monthlong boycott of meetings with Mr. Olmert.

Just coming back to the table will not matter much unless Washington starts to push in earnest for the compromises that are the only basis for an agreement. President Bill Clinton first proposed the outline in 2000: a secure Israel and an economically viable Palestinian state, divided by roughly the June 1967 borders, and including reasonable compromises over Jerusalem.

If Washington doesn’t make clear its own commitment to this kind of peace, it cannot expect weak Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take the political risks needed for a realistic compromise.

They, as well as Washington, would also have to deal with the disruptive reality of Hamas, which broadcasts anti-Semitic propaganda and encourages deadly rocket fire into Israeli towns. The essential first step is to encourage efforts by Egypt and other Arab nations to press Hamas toward a complete cease-fire.

If that can be achieved, the United States and Israel should start exploring the possibilities of talking directly with Hamas, though not in a way that excludes the far more statesmanlike Mr. Abbas.

Doing so does not imply approval of Hamas’s past methods or future goals. It does acknowledge that Hamas has a strong constituency — and a lasting peace would have to include these Palestinians as well.


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