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(photo credit: ahmad gharabli )
Last Monday, gunmen associated with Hamas shot and wounded an Israeli electrician who was doing his job on the Israeli side of the Gaza border.
There could be all kinds of reasons for the attack. It probably was a rogue operation but, once Hamas claimed responsibility, the responsibility became theirs. Some will say that the attack had nothing to do with Israel but was rather a demonstration by Hamas that joining the unity government has not defanged it.
No matter. The one thing all supporters of peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians should agree on is that attacks inside the '67 lines do not represent resisting occupation. Ever since the PLO endorsed the two-state solution in 1988, the term "occupation" has been defined as meaning Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza.
In fact, for the past two years, Hamas has pretty much abandoned attacks inside Israel (with the awful exception of the rocket attacks on Sderot). If the attack on a worker inside Israel indicates the direction the new unity government will be taking, then it is DOA.
Hamas is, of course, not alone in tolerating extremism. This week 200 settlers in Hebron grabbed another building inside the Arab old city. As Shimon Peres said, the Hebron settlers - who have essentially instituted a reign of terror in the biblical city - are creating an "unbearable situation." It's been unbearable for Palestinians for decades.
Yitzhak Rabin wanted to remove the settlers from inside old Hebron, but was assassinated before he had the chance.
THE BOTTOM line is that fanatics on both sides remain determined to thwart any kind of breakthrough. Nevertheless, it is critical that the Israeli and Palestinian governments find a way to end the stalemate. Although that will require some ingenuity, I believe that Israelis and Palestinians are fully capable of it.
The United States seems to be moving in that direction. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not buying into the Israeli government's position that all states friendly with Israel should boycott the entire Palestinian government because some of its members are with Hamas.
According to David Ignatius in Wednesday's Washington Post: "Rice's position is that she won't refuse to talk to Palestinians just because they have become members of the Hamas-dominated government, if their past public statements have recognized Israel's right to exist. She is prepared, for example, to meet the new Palestinian finance minister, Salam Fayad, a former World Bank economist."
Fayad is, of course, one of America's most consistent friends in the region and is close to both Rice and President Bush. He has never wavered in his belief that the Palestinians must both fully accept Israel and end all terrorism. It would be crazy for us to boycott him and, I suspect, the Olmert government privately shares that view.
Rice's position is precisely right. America should not boycott Palestinians who recognize Israel and oppose terrorism just because they serve in a government with people who don't.
The job of a secretary of state is to find ways to communicate with those who can be helpful to the US, not to find ways to stonewall them.
I ALWAYS like to recall the example of President Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972. As president, Nixon had concluded that - despite two decades of leading the opposition to the very idea of recognizing Communist China - rapprochement would strengthen the US in its struggle with the Soviet Union. So he broke with his ideology and stunned the world by visiting China.
Not much happened during the visit. The amazing pictures of a US president in Beijing, shaking hands with Chairman Mao and visiting the Great Wall, were more significant than any agreement reached there.
In fact, it was near-impossible to reach any agreement because the two sides agreed on virtually nothing. Most significantly, China viewed its own government as the only legitimate Chinese government, while the US publicly adhered to the fiction that the nationalists in Taiwan also represented China. Plus, the Chinese supported North Vietnam, while we were engaged in a terrible war defending South Vietnam. The Chinese endorsed "wars of national liberation" everywhere, while we believed just as fervently that the Communists should mind their own business.
Nevertheless, the US-China summit needed to end, as these meetings always do, with a joint communiqu .
And here is where diplomatic ingenuity came in. Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, and Mao's foreign minister, Chou En-Lai, drafted the so-called Shanghai communiqu which stated that the two sides had met, held "frank and honest" discussions, and hoped to meet again.
Unable to state areas of agreement, the communiqu stated areas of disagreement. Over and over again, the communiqu states that "the US side statedâ€¦" and then "the Chinese side stated." There was no agreement, and certainly not on Taiwan or Vietnam.
Nevertheless, the joint statement changed the world by asserting that despite the differences, the process of reconciliation had begun.
The Americans went home, still proclaiming that the US stood by its conviction that the Nationalist government in Taiwan was a legitimate Chinese government. And the Chinese went back to denouncing the imperialist United States and threatening to take Taiwan by force.
Seven years later, the two countries established full normalization.
All it took was the will to end a pointless conflict and the ingenuity to devise a formula to produce the breakthrough.
Is Condoleezza Rice ready to follow the Nixon-Kissinger example? There are hints that she might try. As Nixon understood, where there is a will there is a way. Let's hope this secretary of state has the will. We all know the way.
The writer is the director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.