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Is this what Israel has to offer?
The Jerusalem Post
30 June 2010

It seems the controversies and pain in Palestinian- Israeli relations never end. Itís enough to make people even more despondent about the possibility of peace and turn toward extremism, not as a solution but rather as a means of either defending oneís sense of being right or to justify the unjustifiable.

Israel is in that position today in part because it allows the conflict to worsen. Thereís no real progress.

Little by little, though, Israel is becoming isolated in the world. And worse, more and more Americans are starting to recognize that it is as much a part of the problem as the Palestinians.

So what can Israelis do? Well, they can turn to people like Avigdor Lieberman, a politician often shrugged off as representing far right-wing extremism. But heís not just any politician. He is the foreign minister, though far from the stature of a man like Abba Eban, the former South African-born statesman who became Israelís most eloquent spokesperson. And Lieberman is also deputy prime minister under Binyamin Netanyahu. As wild as they are, his ideas cannot just be brushed aside.

Last week, Lieberman, unveiled his blueprint for peace in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post. He chose this Englishlanguage publication as a clear sign he is trying to speak to the American public Ė and a clearer sign that he realizes that attitudes toward Israel are changing fast, with which I agree.

The failure of the peace process is falling on Israelís shoulders. Netanyahu wonít fully freeze settlement expansion, continues to insist that Jerusalem cannot be shared, and uses disturbing policies meant to restrict non-Jewish life there.

In the face of these policies, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been left with little choice but to reject negotiations, including the ridiculous process of negotiations at a distance called proximity talks. Lieberman, with the backing of some of the Israeli public, represents a frightening future for those who believe two states and compromise are possible.

In the Lieberman blueprint, instead of swapping land for peace, Israel would draw new borders, kind of trying to redo the 1947 UN partition plan which divided Mandatory Palestine into two criss-crossing states whose borders were based mainly on where most of the Jewish population was located. Liebermanís idea is basically a repeat of the idea that some suggest caused the problem in the first place.

Lieberman also says he wants most if not all of Israelís Arab citizens to be drawn out of Israel so that the ďJewish stateĒ can really be all Jewish. Israelis fear that the non-Jewish population might one day exceed the Jewish population and while the fear is exaggerated, Liebermanís idea falls right into the hands of the Palestinian extremists who are calling for the creation of one state in which Jews, Christians and Muslims Ė well, basically Israelis and Palestinians, since there are so few Christian Palestinians left Ė would simply come together and live in peace.

THINGS MUST really be bad for Lieberman to take his ideas into the English forum. Yet this will only serve to push more and more Americans to recognize that the conflict is not being resolved and Israelis and the Palestinians are headed toward an even more cataclysmic future, one that Americans will probably have to pay for.

There is a choice, though. Israelis could push their government to do the right thing. Instead of Liebermanís blueprint, Israelis could rethink the proposals Ehud Barak supposedly offered during the failed non-face-toface peace talks with Yasser Arafat. The ďbest offerĒ was far from great and all it lacked was just a little more creative compassion to work. Share Jerusalem. More importantly, Israelis could overcome the obstacle that made Barakís offer impossible for Arafat to accept by recognizing and addressing fairly the rights of the Palestinian refugees.

But that option is missing one ingredient. A leader with courage. Someone like, well, the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. In 1977, Sadat did something so dramatic that he singlehandedly changed the dynamics of the Middle East conflict.

Is there a Sadat in Israel today? Or are leaders like Netanyahu and Lieberman all Israel has to offer? A courageous leader must surface, someone who can do the unthinkable to preserve Israel and make peace a reality.

A new era of cooperation could eliminate all of the conflict and one day we all may look back at today and wonder how this insanity all came to be.

The writer is an award- winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

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