PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST….Israeli novelist David Grossman has an op-ed in the LA Times today about the chances for peace in the Middle East. The big question, he says, is whether Ariel Sharon wants peace, and he suggests the answer is probably no. Here’s my favorite paragraph:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rebuffed the American request that he freeze construction in Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, explaining that this construction is essential to providing for the “natural increase” of the settlements’ population. Appealing to his guest’s Republican heart, Sharon asked: “Do you want the settlers to have abortions?”

It’s ironic, of course, that he made this appeal to the pro-choice Colin Powell, but it does seem to indicate that he has no intention of budging on acceptance of the U.S. roadmap.

Generally speaking, when a party to a conflict insists that the other side concede something before negotiations even begin, it shows that they aren’t serious. It’s defies human nature to think that your opponents will be willing to give something up for nothing, and it’s the most commonly used dodge by people who want to say they are willing to negotiate, but also want to make sure that negotiations never actually happen.

And so, as usual, we come back to the main point: will George Bush be willing to put some serious pressure on Sharon? It’s plainly obvious that the Palestinians won’t give up the right of return except as part of a negotiated settlement, and it’s equally obvious that they don’t have the ability to completely eliminate terrorism. Insisting on these things is simply a roundabout way of refusing to talk at all.

The next move is up to Bush. With Iraq out of the way, it’s time to find out if he’s now willing to stand up to the neocon hawks and take some genuine risks in the search for peace. I hope he surprises me.

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