Changing the game in the Middle East

The Obama administration’s attacks on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shouldn’t obscure the fact that Netanyahu’s government has taken three significant steps in an effort to improve relations with the Palestinians. First, Netanyahu publicly endorsed Palestinian statehood. Second, Israel agreed to a10-month freeze on new Jewish construction in the West Bank.
Third, Israel took a series of measures to improve the economy of the West Bank. These included removing roadblocks and checkpoints, extending the opening hours and improving efficiency at the Jordan crossing points, and easing the transfer of goods to the Palestinian areas via Israel. In addition, the government has encouraged Israeli companies and international firms to do business in the territories. According to Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, these measures have helped produce a growth rate in the West Bank of more than 10 percent over the past 12 months.
Unfortunately, Israel has received no positive gestures from the Palestinians in return. To the contrary, as Steinitz points out, even as Israel encourages countries to do business in the West Bark, the Palestinians are urging the same countries to boycott the Israeli economy. And, of course, the Palestinians have refused to resume “peace” talks.
Accordingly, Steinitz proposes that Israel cancel the 10-month freeze on new Jewish construction in the West Bank if the Palestinian Authority does not agree to resume peace negotiations within a month or two.
The idea is a sensible one. It would put the ball in the Palestinian court, where it belongs after Israel has made the series of concessions/gestures described above. And it would force Obama, if he is actually interested in peace talks as opposed to hammering Israel, to devote some serious attention to the Palestinian side of the equation.
Finally, it would demonstrate to the Palestinians that their strategy of responding to Israeli concessions by demanding additional ones, rather than reciprocating, will not succeed. Such a demonstration is required because the actions of the Obama administration have, up until now, demonstrated that the Palestinian’s rejectionist strategy is, in fact, the most reasonable one.
The present game being played by Obama and the Palestinians is one Israel should not play. Steinitz has proposed a badly needed game-changer.

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