With Fatah and Hamas joining hands in the occupied territories and Palestinians breaching the Syrian frontier, Israel may feel its situation is more precarious than ever. The latest window of opportunity for peace in the Middle East may be closing, and the popular choice is always to dig in. Yet both sides, and in particular Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would serve their cause best by committing themselves to a rejuvenated peace process.
Forthcoming events in Washington - a speech on Muslim-Western relations by Barack Obama on Thursday, a speech to a joint session of Congress by Mr. Netanyahu on Friday - may seem far removed from the shifting facts on the ground in the region. But political leadership can turn apparent threats into real opportunities.
Mr. Obama should revisit the themes of his May, 2009 address to the Islamic world in Cairo, in which he called for a two-state solution. His assessment then - "that is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest and the world's interest"- is even truer today. Mr. Obama needs to come back out in front of this core idea, around which all negotiations will stand or fall, because recent events put it in question, and because the U.S. position is so weak; his own Middle East representative, George Mitchell, resigned this week.
Arab regimes have an opportunity to prove their relevance by supporting the talks, rather than continuing to cynically manipulate the Palestinians, as they have for so long. The newly united Palestinian leadership must renounce the violence to which the Hamas faction often succumbed.
But it is Mr. Netanyahu who faces the biggest choice. At some point, his guns and rockets, to the extent that he wants to deploy them, will be no match for the Palestinians' new-found unity of purpose, their territorial aspirations or the region's demographic realities. Mr. Netanyahu might well follow the advice of his main political opponent, Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni, who said pointedly, "If you do not initiate, decisions will be made for Israel." In spite of the difficulties of dealing with a Palestinian government that includes a faction opposed to Israel's existence, he can, in his Friday speech, come forward with a constructive proposal to engage the Palestinians, and play to the moderate factions.
Even with this commitment, there will continue to be reasonable disputes on many of the particulars. But without a commitment to the process itself, the possibility of a hardening of attitudes, of increased violence and of even greater threats to the viability of Israel - all of these will grow.
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