- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Our nation’s newspapers are overwhelmed with articles on the foreign policy problems to be faced by our president-elect. One might easily run out of countries’ names, there are so many trouble spots.

But missed in the avalanche is the fact that we face a moment of unique hope. Where? Strangely enough, in that ever “hopeless” morass of the Middle East. In fact, when you put all the dominant factors in the region together and look carefully at the intersections of interests, we might be on the brink of the best chance for a real Israeli-Palestinian peace since the Jimmy Carter administration.

I can already hear you saying, “How could you possibly say such a dumb, dim-witted, dopey thing?” Hamas is attacking Israel from Gaza; the ultra-rightist Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who sees “peace” as the West Bank divided into a collection of disconnected economic zones, may come to power in Israeli elections in February; and Barack Obama’s first appointment, Rahm Emanuel, as White House chief of staff, is a man deeply involved in the most far-right Israeli politics. So, let me explain.

Despite these very real factors, deep changes are occurring inside Israel itself. Little-reported, for some reason, were the outgoing words of former Likudnik Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, long of the Israeli hard right, when he went against all of his past and stated that Israel would eventually have to give up almost all the lands it conquered in 1967, including the Arab parts of Jerusalem.

Also this fall, the Israeli government announced it would cut off funding for illegal settlement outposts and crack down on extremist squatters (thus acknowledging Israel’s complicity in their formation), after its domestic security service director, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, told a Cabinet meeting he is “very concerned” that Jewish extremists would try to assassinate moderate Israeli leaders.

Indeed, outgoing Prime Minister Olmert also warned at the meeting, showing the degree of concern growing even among former members of the anti-peace right: “There is a group, that is not small, of wild people who behave in a way that threatens proper law and governance. … This is unacceptable and we cannot countenance it.”

At the same time, profound changes are taking place within Israel. The fate of Jerusalem, one of the world’s most exquisite cities - and the historic site of the birth and development of the three great religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam - lies in careless hands. Not a single Israeli of national stature has stepped forward to run for mayor of the city, a post that always offered immense stature. The formerly glimmering Near Eastern capital is now the poorest town in Israel, with a third of families and more than half of the children living below the official poverty line.

Meron Benvenisti, the respected former deputy mayor and a great historian of the city, was quoted recently as saying, “This city is a conundrum without a solution.”

As to the Palestinians,one cannot expect great and mature moves from them - but what has been lost in most of the U.S.-Israeli discussions is that this essentially is unimportant.

The United States and Israel are the dominant players in this unfortunate game. They can still do what both have refused to do for at least the last eight years: Set up a just and reasonable peace process. If it is imposed and fairly carried through by the two major players, there is every reason to believe the Palestinians will follow, if only because they would have to.

In short, don’t wait for the Palestinians, pre-empt them! Or, as scholar Zbigniew Brzezinski advised the new American president in The Washington Post, “Obama must rely more on what I call comprehensive regional diplomacy.” In terms of the central Israeli-Palestinian problem, that means “an explicit U.S. diplomatic initiative defining the parameters of a fair Israeli-Palestinian peace, particularly: no ‘right of return,’ a genuinely shared Jerusalem, an Israeli return to the 1967 lines with equitable territorial exchanges, and a demilitarized Palestinian state, perhaps with U.S. peacekeepers.”

And there it is - essentially the workable compromise hammered out in the Taba agreements of 2001.

But then you need an American president who is intent upon actually using American power to push through such a peace treaty. What’s more, action will have to be taken fast, if possible before the February Israeli elections. That is why the idea of naming Bill Clinton as the American Middle East envoy is a good one - he’s the only American of his stature who has the intelligence, the chutzpah and the sheer gall to deal with both sides.

Finally, longtime observers of the Middle East privately question the appointment of Rahm Emanuel to the White House post. Not because of any lack of talent, but because he is the son of a Jerusalem-born member of the Irgun, the Zionist terrorist group that operated in Palestine between 1931 and 1948, that blew up the King David Hotel and assassinated the distinguished Swedish peace negotiator Count Folke Bernadotte. All this was outlined in an article in the prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Nov. 6, while London’s Guardian further detailed Mr. Emanuel’s personal volunteer army service in the Israeli army during the 1990s Gulf war.

But given the changes taking place in Israel and in the region, Mr. Emanuel deserves a chance to show whether he does not now prefer to go down in history as a peacemaker instead of a warmonger. There are also many new indicators that the American Jewish community, which voted 78 percent for Mr. Obama (according to the Israel Policy Forum), is finally coming to realize that peace with the Palestinians would be of far greater benefit to the Jewish people than eternal, proud destruction.

While all this is happening, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just made her 22nd hapless trip to Israel. Her message, after eight years of the most inept diplomacy seen even in that area: It’s not likely that any peace agreement will happen before the end of the year. Can you imagine all of these years and possibilities lost?

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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