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Blaming both sides reinforces the occupation

Western liberals know Netanyahu is the problem and Abbas isn’t, but their unwillingness to say so ends up achieving the opposite of their goal.  

There it was again, this time at the end of today’s (Thursday’s) New York Times editorial on Kerry’s “shuttle diplomacy.” After making it clear for the nth time that the occupation is wrong, that settlements are wrong and that Netanyahu clearly intends to keep them going, it was time for the Times to weasel out.

Along with Mr. Netanyahu, the biggest drag on serious progress seems to be the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who has shown no sign of dropping his demand that Israel halt settlements before negotiations resume.

Mr. Abbas squandered a chance at a peace deal in 2008. It would be foolish to do so again.

Ohhh, isn’t that nice? They’re both at fault.

How many times have I read this in one form or another from liberal columnists like Thomas Friedman, former peace processors like Martin Indyk, but above all, of course, from every single major politician and diplomat in the Western world (except those in the Republican Party).

Both sides have to compromise, they say, both sides have to make brave decisions. (My favorite part is when they say “brave.”)

I would like to ask these people a question, starting with Kerry: Since it is impossible for Israel and the Palestinians to each be exactly 50 percent to blame for the status quo, which side would you say is more to blame, even if just a little bit more, than the other?

And of course Kerry, like these other liberals, wouldn’t answer. But they know the answer, even if they won’t say it publicly: Israel is more to blame, certainly now with Netanyahu running the country and Abbas running the Palestinian Authority.

If Abbas were leading a terror campaign against Israel, then there would be some credibility to the idea that both sides are to blame. But like all these good progressives know, Abbas is Israel’s active partner in the clampdown on terror, and has been since he took over the PA nine years ago. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has withdrawn all territorial offers made by previous Israeli prime ministers; the only “map” he has divulged is of East Jerusalem, which is to remain forever under Israeli control; and in 10,000 other ways he has made it clear that his goal is the same as it has always been: Palestinian surrender.

Kerry knows this, Obama knows this, the Europeans know this, the New York Times knows this. They see that the PA is giving Israel peace while Israel not only isn’t giving the PA land, it keeps taking more and more away. They see that Abbas recognizes Israel’s right to one side of the Green Line while Netanyahu in no way recognizes the Palestinians’ right to the other side. Most importantly, they see that in the West Bank, Israel is the subjugator and the Palestinians the subjugated.

They’re liberals, they’re democrats, they know who is David and who is Goliath in this deal. Yet they won’t say what they know is true: that Netanyahu is the problem and Abbas is not. Or, at the very, very least, that Netanyahu is more of the problem than Abbas is.

Why won’t they say this? If they’re Jewish, it is psychologically difficult to say such a thing. If they’re Americans, Jewish or non-Jewish, who depend on mainstream American approval, it is an extremely unpopular thing to say. And if they’re European officials, they don’t want to irritate Washington.

But they know it, they know this is not a 50-50 relationship, they know that Netanyahu, whom none of them can stand, is the bully in this story and Abbas is the one getting bullied.

And by not issuing that judgment out loud, by keeping to this cowardly even-handedness of theirs, they are making Netanyahu very, very happy. After all, if the powers-that-be say he’s no more to blame than Abbas, then he doesn’t have to slow down the occupation train one bit – let Abbas make the first move. And since the sort of moves the powers-that-be are now calling on Abbas to make – such as “dropping his demand that Israel halt settlements before negotiations resume” – would allow Netanyahu to negotiate forever while building settlements, Abbas cannot do what he’s being asked to do without, indeed, surrendering. So if both sides are equally to blame and Abbas won’t budge, Netanyahu isn’t under any pressure to budge, either; he can keep his knee in the Palestinians’ spine indefinitely.

And this, finally, is what the liberal democrats of the West achieve by whining “they’re both to blame”: They reinforce the occupation.

Noam Sheizaf wrote that Kerry would be more helpful around here if he publicly acknowledged that there is no peace process.  I’d say Kerry – like the New York Times, ex-peace processors, European leaders and other faint-hearted types – would be more helpful if they said nothing at all. At least then they wouldn’t be doing any harm.

Is Kerry out to make peace, or a peace process?
Admitting there is no peace process is the best thing Kerry can do for peace
John Kerry’s Kodak moment at the Dead Sea

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    1. Richard Witty

      Good thing it is Kerry that is prodding and cajoling.

      “Who is to blame?” is the way to pose the question so that NOTHING CHANGES.

      “If” you do this, then this can happen. (Turkey)

      “If” you do that, then that can happen. (Egypt continuing to recognize their treaty).

      “If” you do this, then this can happen (Quiet on border with Gaza).

      “If” you do that, then that can happen (War of words only with Syria.)

      “If” we do this, this, that and that in preparation, then we might get to a consented agreement.

      “If” the flanks in Israel and Palestine do this (BDS) then there will be no possible rational middle, no peace. “If” the flanks in Israel and Palestine do that (agitate for the removal of the other), then there will no possible rational middle, no peace.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      Just for reference, hopelessness in Kerry or other efforts, also firm up the occupation, no change.

      There is this constant litany from Israelis relative to Americans. “Don’t interfere”.

      While, thirty seconds later, “please, please, please, we beg you, INTERFERE.”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      Good article, which I hope someone in the state department or the white house reads.

      Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      Abbas is not a partner to peace or anything else.
      He presides over an Administration that seems to have one objective, the preservation of the wealth and privilege that its members enjoy via the holding of power.
      Let them have elections to replace this redundant and corrupt regime, with something more representative of the Palestinians wishes.
      I have no doubt that its replacement would be a quite unpalatable regime, whose intentions, if not its name, would be the same as that in Gaza.
      At least we would know where we stand, and Israel could act accordingly.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Joel

      Negotiations cannot come with pre-conditions, whether it’s settlement construction, prisoner releases or recognition of Israel as a Jewish State.

      It’s simply not the it works. I’m a trial attorney whose settled over a hundred cases before and during trial. I know what I’m talking about. Anyone who demands pre-conditions doesn’t want a deal.

      Reply to Comment
      • The settlements are an expanding action of harm, not fixed event. A freeze on settlements would as well be a freeze on settler behavior towards expansion. You well know that expanding action is not allowed in trial, and can be cause to shift solution before trial. Often, the first thing a court does in a case, given adequate cause, is freeze like behavior until outcome.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          Bibi froze settlement expansion for 10 months.

          The freeze didn’t help the peace process, it just made Bibi look foolish.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Reader

      You never mention why they won’t say, it is Netenyahu to blame and not Abbass. I would be interested to know your thoughts on that.

      Reply to Comment
      • “Why won’t they say this? If they’re Jewish, it is psychologically difficult to say such a thing. If they’re Americans, Jewish or non-Jewish, who depend on mainstream American approval, it is an extremely unpopular thing to say. And if they’re European officials, they don’t want to irritate Washington.”

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        • Charles-Jerusalem

          To Larry Derfner,
          I really don’t agree with your position so disappointing. When I saw the title, I had hope but I dechanted fast.
          I asked my wife (very left wing) what would be her price for giving back the west bank, she answered:”If I can go back shopping to Jericho feeling secure, then let’s go for peace”. It meant freedom of travelling anywhere securely. This is not possible because both parties do not trust each other. Because of that, they are both responsible. I will never vote for a solution that I think would mean the continuation of hatred.
          So is it only about Bibi? ? ?

          Reply to Comment
          • Reader

            Asking to be “secure” while shopping at Jericho, is like a thief asking to be secure when shopping at a department store which he robbed from once….It is that simple

            Reply to Comment
          • Charles-Jerusalem

            To Reader,
            No peace without freedom of travelling.
            Palestine is everywhere around us, stuck in our tussik, we can’t afford any other solution.

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    7. Kolumn9

      You are right. It is nowhere near 50/50. The Palestinians are 95% to blame for refusing to restart talks. Every single excuse the Palestinians use is just that an excuse to avoid negotiations. Let’s count them. Settlements – the Palestinians have repeatedly negotiated while settlements were built and refused to negotiate when settlement construction was frozen. All this while Israel has repeatedly demonstrated a capacity for removing settlements as a result of negotiations. Borders – the Palestinian demand that Israel must accept the outcome of border negotiations before the border negotiations is a condition that only people that don’t want to negotiate make.

      Netanyahu – ‘the bully’ has repeatedly stated a desire to restart talks, including being willing in the past to freeze settlement construction for 10 months. The freeze was very real as construction figures from Peace Now and other organizations testify. The Palestinians – ‘the bullied’ – have repeatedly resorted to trying to bypass negotiations in order to make gains via unilateral measures explicitly prohibited by previous agreements with Israel.

      What is preventing talks from actually taking place is Palestinian preconditions. There is no dispute so far on any of this. So, who is to blame for not talking? The side that wants to talk or the side that places ridiculous conditions on even being willing to sit down to negotiate?

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      • You do not allow someone to continue kicking you in the mouth while negotiating. Settlement expansion entails settler behavior against the livelihood of local residents, taking use rights to land and preventing travel. You have repeatedly shown disregard and disdain for these residents; not real harm exists, for they do not exist as humans identical with yourself. I do not care why the PA refused to negotiate during those 10 months of freeze. I do know that those slaving for Yahweh and Greater Israel should not be allowed to continue their righteous advance onto others’ livelihood. There is no need to negotiate against pushing someone’s face into mud; it should not happen in any case.

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        • Kolumn9

          The Palestinians have repeatedly negotiated while settlement construction was ongoing. Regardless of the flowery language you may use, this is a fact. They also refused to sit down and negotiate during a settlement freeze. This too is a fact. Nor is Palestinian refusal to enter negotiations preventing continued settlement construction. So, the only logical conclusion is that this is simply an excuse to avoid negotiating.

          There is a general understanding (even among the Arab states) that the Palestinians will have to accept less than their 100% demands of the West Bank and the vast majority of settlement construction that takes place does so in areas which EVERYONE knows will remain a part of Israel within a future peace agreement.

          The refusal to negotiate at this point is a tactical excuse by the Palestinians to avoid returning to the negotiating table because they know they are in no position to make the compromises required for peace. They are not going to get an offer that is anywhere near the generous offer made by Olmert and Abbas couldn’t even bring himself to accept that one. He delayed meetings with Americans and Israelis and delayed responding to the offer for six months because he couldn’t come up with any way of rejecting it without making it obvious that he was not willing to actually make peace with Israel.

          Reply to Comment
    8. amit

      Larry ignores the main point of the NYT editorial. Abbas refused a far-reaching Israeli offer to end the occupation and gain peace only few years ago, by his own admission. He has no right to complain about Netanyahu refusel to end the occupation after he rejected the option to bring it to an end by the previous prime minister.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Michael Rosenberg

      You rely on many erroneous facts for your conclusions. You should better inform yourself before forming your opinions. For example, the Oslo accords specifically make settlements a final status issue. Therefore, freezing settlements would be a concession for the Israelis. Such a concession should only be made if the Palestinians offer a mutual concession because unilateral concessions will only encourage the Palestinians to ask for more unilateral concessions as we have seen in the past. For example, the water sharing agreement entitles the Palestinians to 225 million cubic meter per year of water and an additional 75 cubic meters upon a final agreement. The Palestinians complained that due to population growth and deterioration of their water system that they needed more water and complained to the international community. So the Israelis agreed to the increase to 300 million cubic meters per year without a final agreement. In the end, the Palestinians not only didn’t acknowledge this concession but also asked for more concessions. As long as the Palestinians can get what they want for free, they will never agree to any compromises. As for your assumption that Abbas accepts Israel’s right to exist, you should research the differences in the positions of Fatah as described by Manuel Hassassian (Palestinian representative to the UK) and the official position of the PLO, both of which are headed by Abbas. However, even if Abbas accepts, on a personal level, Israel’s right to exist, he still is fighting public opinion, which still, and historically always, overwhelmingly rejects Israel’s right to exist. It is this pressure of public opinion that explains why Abbas currently won’t even accept the map that he drew with Yossi Beilin in 1995. Even though he might support the map personally, public opinion will not accept it.

      Reply to Comment
    10. phil

      @M Rosenberg

      Shockingly greedy of the Palestinians to demand some of the water that is pumped from the acquifiers beneath their land..

      How dare they divert water from settlement swimming pools and gardens..

      Reply to Comment
      • rsgengland

        Stupid comment.
        The Palestinians in virtually all departments of their Administration refuse to sit down to discuss issues with their Israeli opposites.
        They call it normalization of the occupation and/or collaboration.
        The Palestinians dig illegal wells which drain the underground aquifers in an unplanned manner.
        Israel on the other hand, is on the point of having more water than it needs via conservation, desalination and waste water purification and reuse [without needing any water from those underground sources].

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    11. Jan

      The last time there were any serious talks was in the 1990s after Arafat recognized Israel, something that far too many easily forget.

      While the parties were talking, talking, talking Israel was building, building, building indicating to the Palestinians that peace was not foremost. It should not be forgotten that during the talks then Housing Minister Ariel Sharon proudly announced that Israel was “creating facts on the ground” and would be doubling the number of settlements. Anyone with half a brain should have known that expanding Israel’s grip on the land was more important than peace. Surely the Palestinians knew that as well.

      I find it incredibly strange that the oppressed and occupied people have to negotiate with their oppressors and occupiers to get their freedom and their land. There is nothing that the Palestinians have to give up. They are the aggrieved party. They are the party who has had at least 24,000 of their homes destroyed by Israel since 1967. They are the party who have lost an estimated one million olive and fruit trees. They are the party who were put under curfew when Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron. The Jews could still walk the segregated Shuhada St. and the other streets of Hebron but the Palestinians were confined to their homes under threat of being shot by an IDF sniper.

      The occupation is wrong, dead wrong. There is no need for negotiations. Israel should get out, out, out. Sadly they will not leave even if there are “negotiations.” The world will more and more shun Israel and the Jewish state will be legitimately termed the apartheid state of Israel and, hopefully, will be treated just as was apartheid South Africa.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The last time there were serious talks was under Israeli prime minister Olmert when Sharon was already a vegetable in some hospital. That was when the Palestinian side got an offer they had no clue how to refuse so they decided to just stall and not respond for six months until Olmert got voted out of office. The Palestine Papers demonstrate that the biggest issue the Palestinians had is that they couldn’t come up with any actual way of saying no to the proposal because there was nothing they could point to as a good reason for rejecting the offer.

        The Palestinians want a state. Fine. The actual borders of that state have to be negotiated. The passage between the West Bank and Gaza need to be negotiated. Usage of Israeli airspace has to be negotiated. Usage of the water has to be negotiated. Usage of the RF bands have to be negotiated. Even if they were the aggrieved party they still need to negotiate all these things and most certainly nothing gives them the right to get onto a bus and blow a bus full of Israeli women and children. Or for that matter launch rockets randomly at Israeli cities. Or for that matter demand to destroy their neighbor country. So, you know what, no, they are not the ‘aggrieved’ party. They are just the party that lost its wars and failed in its inhuman attempts to murder the maximum number of Israeli civilians and none of this gives them special rights to make demands or assume that they deserve to be handed their demands on a silver platter.

        Not only that but on what basis should Israel have any trust that the Palestinians aren’t going to turn Ramallah into another Gaza from which to shoot missiles into Jerusalem and turn Qalqilya into a missile base against Tel Aviv? And on what basis should Israel have any trust that Iran or some other hostile party isn’t going to send tanks and artillery to point down at Tel Aviv leaving Israel completely exposed to destruction? This is why the Palestinians must negotiate and must demonstrate that they have given up the desire to destroy Israel and no longer treat like heroes those that massacre Israeli women and children.

        And stop with the prophesy nonsense. You know about as much about what the ‘world’ will do or not do as the bottle of water sitting on my table.

        Reply to Comment
        • K9, they negotiated until Op Cast Lead, the Palestinians didn’t accept Israel keeping Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim or Har Homa, they didn’t agree on the numbers of refugees allowed to return – they just didn’t agree to the Israeli offer. You interpret that to mean they want to kill, destroy, etc., and you say they have to prove otherwise before Israel can do business with them. Why don’t you just admit that you want the occupation to continue forever because ending it, in your view, will be suicidal for Israel? If you’re convinced that Abbas is out to destroy Israel, then saying that you’re open to the idea of the Palestinians one day “changing” is just pretense.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Larry, they never responded. The Palestine Papers demonstrate that they took this course of action because they couldn’t find a justifiable reason for rejecting the offer. Even Ariel, Maale Adumim and Har Homa are just excuses. If the Palestinians want to build a peaceful state next to Israel, Ariel, Maale Adumim and Har Homa will make absolutely zero difference in their ability to do so. The road system that Israel has built in the West Bank is a pretty decent example of what one can do in order to deal with problematic geography/demography and the argument that any of these settlements divide the West Bank in two is fundamentally contradicted by spending 1 second looking at a map. This is especially true since Olmert was willing to give up the Jordan Valley.

            They also didn’t agree to the numbers of refugees because they are incapable of telling their people that Israel as a Jewish state will continue to exist and that the agreement they sign is the end of the conflict. I asked you before to find me an actual offer made by the Palestinians where they agree to limit the total number of refugees to enter Israel. You couldn’t do that. You found me a document where they were willing to send a set number over 10 years and then to revisit the issue 10 years down the line with more demands, which is the exact opposite of an actual end of conflict.

            I don’t think ending the ‘occupation’ is suicidal for Israel. Ending the ‘occupation’ and handing over strategic assets to an enemy determined to continue the conflict is detrimental and potentially suicidal. Abbas, even if he himself is interested in ending the conflict appears incapable of actually moving his people in that direction and incapable of accepting a deal that ends the conflict once and for all including removing any recourse to continued conflict on the part of the Palestinians. Without this there is absolutely no value in signing any deal with a 77-year old leader of an aging and dying generation serving the 9th year of his 4 year elected term, with no control over Gaza or Hamas. What does Israel get for sacrificing strategic assets and ripping 50,000-100,000 settlers from their homes? A peace that lasts 4 months until Abbas is overthrown and Hamas takes over? If he was willing to end the conflict at least one can argue Israel gets a potentially valuable piece of paper, but without an explicit end of conflict the whole thing is just Israel giving up assets for a piece of paper that will be ripped up due to the outstanding clauses (such as for example refugees) and the whole thing just continues as it does now with Israel in the weaker position.

            Reply to Comment
          • K9, you say Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, Har Homa, etc. aren’t a real problem for the Palestinians, they have no reason to complain. As if those settlements weren’t built where they are for the exact purpose of breaking up Palestinian contiguity in Samaria (Ariel) and disconnecting E Jlem from the WBank (MAdumim and Har Homa).
            On the refugee issue, no, the Palestinian offer was not something that Israel should accept because of that 10-year expiration – but why does that prove that peace is impossible, that they want to destroy us? Why not see it as a big step in the right direction – much bigger than any step we’ve taken on refugees?
            And if Abbas does not have the Palestinians behind him (and you take that to mean his signature on a peace treaty is of limited value), it’s not because he’s too anti-Israel, but because he’s too conciliatory – yet instead of trying to strengthen him and thereby show the Palestinians that conciliation with Israel pays off, which might gain Abbas more support (and make his signature a little more valuable, in your view), we put the screws to him, teach Palestinians that conciliation will only get them ridicule, and turn more Palestinians against him. And you blame Abbas for that.
            I guess it depends on what one considers to be fair in this whole deal, what one considers to be rightfully Israel’s and what is rightfully Palestine’s. I divide it along the Green Line, with Israel and the Palestinians having equal rights on their own respective sides. From what I can gather, you don’t think the Palestinians have a RIGHT to any piece of land around here at all – that it’s strictly up to Israel to decide which parts it wants to give up for practical purposes, but that it OWES the Palestinians no sovereignty over any of it. That’s a totally one-sided view, but also the dominant one among Israelis and their supporters, which you (plural) are entitled to. But the Palestinians’ refusal to go along with it doesn’t they’re out to destroy us.

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          • rsgengland

            The refugee issue is the crux to this entire issue.
            Settlements can, with major will and effort, be removed, as was proven in both Sinai and Gaza.
            Refugees on the other hand are a far more complex and emotive issue.
            Firstly, you have UNRWA which has institutionalized and made permanent, the ‘Palestinian only’ refugee problem.
            UNRWA also has a major investment in the refugee problem continuing because of all the vested interests.
            Secondly, the Palestinians have, virtually in unison, said that the ‘right of return’ is sacrosanct and non-negotiable.
            The Palestinians can’t and won’t relinquish that right.
            Thirdly, half of Israels Jewish population are descendants of the Jews who were ‘Ethnically Cleansed’ from the Arab/Muslim lands; and I for one, cannot see them agreeing to allow Israel to be turned into another Muslim dominated country that has no respect for the rule of law, human rights and minorities.
            The Palestinians, despite all claims to the contrary, have not yet removed from their Charters, calls for Israels destruction and the ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of most of its Jewish population [all Palestinian groups are included here].
            Sort the refugee issue, and all the other issue become solvable.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            I didn’t say they have no reason to complain about Maale Adumim, Ariel or Har Homa. I said they do absolutely nothing in preventing a Palestinian state from being formed and from having transportation contiguity where Palestinians would never have to go through them like Israelis no longer go through Bidya on the way to Ariel and are thus able to ignore Bidya (to the probable displeasure of the Palestinian merchants that used to sell marble statues and other lawn/bathroom decorations/products to Israelis on the way to Ariel).

            The refugee issue is something the Palestinians use to keep the conflict alive. That they are not yet willing to close the conflict doesn’t mean that peace is permanently impossible, but until they are willing to end the conflict there is nothing to be gained from any peace treaty with them. Again, I never said there has been no progress on the issue. I am just pointing out that the Palestinians wishing to leave the issue open is a symbol of bad faith in regards to any peace of paper signed. In practice they are creating an out for themselves from the treaty while forcing Israel to make strategic concessions while acknowledge some sort of responsibility for accepting Palestinian refugees. Ten years down the line they can come back and say – look you have already accepted the right of return for 100,000, so now you are backing out of the deal by not accepting any more. They can even do so even earlier if Israel doesn’t allow this terrorist or that terrorist to move to Tel Aviv. This is not an end to the conflict and it is patently stupid to give away strategic assets for a piece of paper where the Palestinian side is a priori insisting on an out for themselves.

            I blame Abbas for walking away from a peace deal. That he has to deal with a Palestinian public that is still obsessed with the idea of gradually overturning Israel is not really his fault, but clearly constraints his freedom of action. He has however demonstrated that he is incapable of leading his people towards making the required compromises and whether he is stronger or weaker is pretty much irrelevant at this point. His generation is dying as is their worldview.

            The green line has little meaning to me and from what I gather very little meaning to most Palestinians. The only people that cling on to the green line are people on the Israeli left trying to insist that the conflict is about the 1967 war and territories and that all the Palestinians are interested in is having a state living in peace next to Israel. The persistent insistence of the Palestinians on the right of return and the refusal to accept the concept of two states for two peoples has long ago dissuaded me from the idea that the Palestinians are particularly interested in the two state solution within the context of an end to conflict. I spend quite a bit of time reading articles written by Palestinians and I have yet to find one that places much ultimate importance on the green line. So, it isn’t really about the green line and yes, if they were able to do so they would destroy us and the green line wouldn’t factor at all in that desire. Perhaps over time, after a peace treaty is signed more neighborly relations can be established, but these are generational transitions, not something that happens with the signing of a piece of paper. Given that, the only reasonable view of the resolution of the conflict is one based on pragmatic considerations – how much the Arabs would accept in return for a useful peace of paper without undermining the long-term security prospects of the state of Israel. The two are very much related. The more secure the state of Israel is and the less opportunity the other side has for undermining that the more valuable the piece of paper becomes.

            Reply to Comment
    12. directrob

      This article is spot on.

      For this to be solved international law should be the guide not the wish to have a powerful secure Western state in the Middle East.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Barry Meridian

      Every last Israeli proposal becomes the starting point for the next set of Palestinian demands until there is no Jewish state.

      Reply to Comment
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