(photo credit: AP)
It is telling that on the same day that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, the cabinet designated Hamas-ruled Gaza as an "enemy entity," enabling the imposition of economic sanctions if Kassam attacks continue.
One might have expected that the government would wait a day or so to take this step, at least until Rice had left town. But the juxtaposition of the two events is actually instructive, as it serves to highlight the relationship between the diplomatic track and the fight against the extremist axis that is aligned to defeat that track.
On her way to Jerusalem, Rice explained US thinking regarding the planned international peace conference: "What I have heard from everyone, and it's not just the Saudis... is 'Make this conference serious and substantive.' ...What are we trying to do here? We're trying to support the forces in the Middle East, and in this case most especially the Palestinians and the Israelis... who believe in a two-state solution.
"We can't simply continue to say we want a two-state solution. We've got to start to move toward one," she went on. 'And this international meeting is also going to be doing exactly that... [not] just to declare that we all want to see a two-state solution."
There is nothing wrong and much right in this thinking, as far as it goes. Sometimes, however, it seems as if Rice sees the Israeli-Palestinian situation in a vacuum, unaffected by events swirling around it.
Just yesterday, another anti-Syrian Lebanese leader was assassinated by a car bomb, leaving the Syrian regime, as usual, a prime suspect. Iran continues to race toward establishing nuclear facts on the ground, while its proxies are busy wreaking havoc in Iraq, working to topple the Lebanese government, and attacking Israel from Gaza.
The Israeli cabinet decision, coupled with the reported operation in Syria two weeks ago, should serve as gentle reality checks. Peace efforts continue, but they do so, unfortunately, in a war context. What is more, it is impossible to rationally pursue such peace efforts without acknowledging which is the cart and which is the horse: negotiating peace or fighting the war.
In the past, Israeli leaders have said that they would fight terrorism and seek peace at the same time - implying that each would be given equal priority. This approach never really worked and certainly is not good enough now.
One fears that Rice and the Western foreign policy apparatus in general is inclined to an even less successful approach: seeking peace as a central means to fighting the war. The Baker-Hamilton report was a classic expression of this idea, associated with the Arabist and "realist" schools, that the threat from rogue regimes can be deflated by removing the "grievance" of the Arab-Israel conflict.
In fact, we should have learned by now that the situation is exactly reversed. It is impossible to negotiate peace in a context where the radical forces opposing peace are getting stronger. In fact, successfully confronting peace opponents is a critical prerequisite for any successful peace process.
Rice is right that it is time to move beyond declarations. But the question must be asked, what is the real obstacle to such movement? The obstacle is the conflict's genesis and essence: the Arab refusal to abandon the goal of Israel's destruction and accept the legitimacy - not just existence - of the Jewish state.
It should be obvious that the fundamental step of ending the century-old war to block or destroy the Zionist project will not happen at just the moment when the jihad against the West seems poised to gain a nuclear tail wind. Accordingly, as welcome as Rice is here, she could perhaps do more for Mideast peace in Bonn, Paris, London, Moscow and Beijing, lobbying for truly draconian sanctions against Teheran.
Even if the regional conference were successful beyond expectations, any progress could only be considered a promissory note pending the outcome of the confrontation with Iran and its proxies and allies. By contrast, the moment a corner is turned in the conflict with Iran and it becomes clear that the mullahs will be stopped, then the possibilities for real peacemaking will be greatly enhanced.