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Starting the Peace Process

The NYT Editorial, 11.12.07

Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to begin serious negotiations tomorrow after last month’s long-on-optics, short-on-specifics Annapolis peace meeting. Despite all the smiles and handshakes, both sides went home and fell back into some familiar, counterproductive patterns.
If this effort has any chance of success, everyone who attended Annapolis — including the Americans and Arab leaders — are going to have to work a lot harder at breaking those patterns.
Days after the American-led conference prepared the ground for the first serious peace talks in seven years, Israel announced that it would be adding 307 new homes to a settlement south of East Jerusalem, a violation of the spirit of Israel’s commitments. Some senior Palestinian officials immediately started talking about boycotting the negotiations. The government-run Palestinian Authority TV also clearly hasn’t gotten the post-Annapolis message: broadcasting a map of the region soon after the meeting that pointedly erased Israel.
Important Arab states were invited to Annapolis so that they could bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he confronts politically difficult choices. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, however, did Mr. Abbas no favors last week, arranging coveted pilgrimages for Palestinians on a Hamas-approved list.
There are some hopeful signs. Mr. Abbas sent hundreds of security officers to the West Bank city of Tulkarm to crack down on militants who threaten Israel. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, made several public statements, in Hebrew, that are viewed as an attempt to prepare Israelis for trading land for peace.
Both leaders, though politically weak, seem genuinely intent on trying to reach a deal. To succeed, they have to be serious about building popular support for their mission. That starts with telling their people frankly that all the core issues — the future of Jerusalem, the fate of refugees, the borders of a Palestinian state and guaranteeing Israel’s security — are now on the agenda and that hard compromises will have to be made.
They will have more luck if both can show their citizens that life can be better — today. Israel must work with the Palestinians to expedite passage through border checkpoints that are a constant source of Palestinian frustration. Mr. Abbas should order a review of Palestinian textbooks and order his aides to curb rhetoric that Israelis say incite terrorism.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should be commended for moving quickly to name a special envoy. We are pleased that Mr. Bush has decided to visit Israel as part of a wider Middle East trip early next year. We hope it means that Ms. Rice and he have finally embraced the full challenges and day-to-day responsibilities of being peacemakers.