Mahmoud Abbas has marked the Christmas season by proclaiming once again that he will permit no Israelis in his State of Palestine. In an earlier version he said that he would permit no Jews, but handlers had him revise his comments in a direction thought to be politically correct.

The recognition of his state is not sweeping the world, but is moving across South America. Ecuador has joined Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Bolivia in recognizing a Palestinian state with the borders of 1967 and its capital in Jerusalem.


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So far there are no reports of frock-clothed ambassadors wandering the streets of this city with credentials in hand, looking for the Palestinian Presidential Mansion, or a place to establish an embassy. 


The Palestinian who serves as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, called for understanding between Jews and Muslims, as well as a spirit of peace between the faithful of all the monotheistic religions.


One of the Patriarch''s monsignors should whisper to Mahmoud Abbas that he is not serving the aspirations of the Church by comments about expelling Jews or Israelis.


Abbas'' handlers might also advise him that talking about a Palestine that is Judenrein is not the way to calm Israeli Arabs who worry about Jewish politicians who would transfer them and their towns to Palestine.


There are also signs of cooperation. One cannot be certain if the glass is half-full, or even one-tenth full, but not everything rings like the empty bombast of Mahmoud Abbas or those governments of South America.


When I arrived at the university gym on Thursday, I encountered a number of well padded young men sitting in the lobby. Their black jackets carried the word SECURITY, and they talked among themselves in Arabic. 


Had we lost a war I hadn''t heard about? I found the gym''s security person, who speaks Hebrew with the accent of an Arab, and asked about the newcomers. He told me that they were security personnel employed by the United Nations, at the gym for a series of lessons in first aid.


More Israeli Arab women, and most likely those of the West Bank, are pursuing higher education. That should advance economic development as well as limit family size, and improve understanding across cultural borders. No doubt some of the educated women will sign up as suicide bombers, but the general picture is that their education is good for us all. Israeli high-tech firms are outsourcing work not only to India, but also to Ramallah. And there are joint ventures between high tech firms of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, and those of Nazareth. 


While walking to the university I encounter Arab women dressed like their Jewish counterparts. I can identify them ethnically only if I hear them speaking Arabic. Somewhat worrisome is that Israeli Arabs are moving rightward on the dimension of religiosity. More young women are covering their heads. A friend who teaches literature told me of an Arab student whose religious father forced him to leave the university in order to avoid studying alongside women. (I asked the teacher if she had any ultra-Orthodox students. My message was clear, and her answer as expected.)


Rockets are still coming out of Gaza. A Hamas spokesman with his face wrapped in a keffiyeh, weighed down with a rifle and several bandoleers of ammunition, talking in front many microphones, threatened Israel with destruction. The IDF''s messages in return have not been verbal. Hardly a day goes by without an event or an attempt at violence traced to the West Bank or Arab communities of Israel. 


There are also restive Jews. The rabbinical ruling against renting or selling apartments to non-Jews provoked counter statements by equally distinguished rabbis, but also demonstrations against providing housing in Jewish neighborhoods for Arabs or for the Africans who come over the border with Sinai. 


It was about 2000 years ago when a young Jew joined others of his generation in preaching the message of the Hebrew prophets. It was a troubled period leading up to a civil war and rebellion against Rome. Seven to eight hundred years earlier Isaiah expressed the word of the Lord that nations "will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4).


We''re still waiting.  








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