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(photo credit: AP)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to go to Ramallah today to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. She spent Monday in Sharm e-Sheikh attending the international conference for the reconstruction of Gaza, where Washington pledged $900 million in additional aid to the Palestinians. Yesterday, in Jerusalem, Clinton met Israeli leaders including Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu.
In Ramallah, Palestinians can be expected to tell Clinton that the peace process is at a crossroads: Either the Obama administration pressures Israel into making suicidal concessions - and soon - or the two-state solution is finished. They will claim that Netanyahu is insufficiently enamored with the idea of a Palestinian state. And Clinton will hear the mantra that Israel "must choose between peace and settlements."
To her credit, Clinton has not shied away from taking Hamas to task for its violent rejectionism. In Ramallah, she has a unique opportunity to take Abbas to task for his unworkable approach to peacemaking. For if Hamas is a dead end and Abbas a false hope, the two-state solution really is a pipedream.
At Sharm, Clinton praised Abbas "for his commitment to move forward with a negotiated solution." But when the two sit down together today, she needs to deliver a less sugar-coated message: Get realistic.
On Monday, Clinton said, "We cannot afford more setbacks and delays, or regrets about what might have been had different decisions been made. And now is not the time for recriminations. It is time to look ahead."
To help the process move forward, however, Clinton will need to disabuse Abbas of the notion that he can adhere to a maximalist negotiating stance in the hope that the Obama administration will deliver an Israel prostrate at the negotiating table. She will need to tell him that unless he becomes flexible - on borders, refugees and the initial contours of statehood - Palestinian prophesies about an end to the two-state solution will prove self-fulfilling.
When Abbas starts kvetching about Netanyahu, Clinton might ask why the elastic policies of the outgoing Olmert government did not elicit a "yes" from the Palestinian moderates.
Abbas continues to insist that Israel pull back to the 1949 Armistice Lines, leaving this country with a 15-18km.-wide waistline and our airport vulnerable to short-range missile attack. Strategic depth matters - especially along the coastal plain, where most Israelis live.
Clinton needs to tell Abbas to abandon his outrageous demand for the "right" of "return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to Israel proper. Netanyahu speaks for mainstream Israelis when he says that the Palestinians will also have to defer, in the short-term, anyway, some of the characteristics of statehood. For example, Israel cannot gamely cede control over the airspace and electromagnetic field between the Mediterranean and the Jordan without irretrievably jeopardizing its security.
Of course, Palestinian moderation would be bolstered if the Arab League explicitly supported compromise. Yet the League itself has presented Israel with a take-it-or-leave it offer which is, nevertheless, a good starting point for negotiations.
CLINTON urged the Palestinians "to break the cycle of rejection and resistance" - an unfortunate euphemism for anti-civilian warfare. Perhaps, by speaking even more forthrightly in Ramallah today, she can help Palestinians reverse 60 years of self-defeating rejectionism and encourage the kind of pragmatism that's historically been absent from the Palestinian body politic.
The US has made a key contribution to building Palestinian institutions with the goal of making them accountable and transparent. Much, much more needs to be done.
As the security situation has allowed, Israel has been incrementally fostering conditions - ease of travel up and down the West Bank, for instance - that enhance Palestinian dignity while massively improving the local economy.
Regarding the settlement issue, the maintenance of strategic settlement blocs - "1967-plus" - far from being "obstacles to peace," actually make a deal palatable to Israelis, the manipulative lobbying by foreign-funded groups such as Peace Now notwithstanding.
"The inevitability of working toward a two-state solution is inescapable," Clinton said. It would be better for us all were she to make clear to Abbas that nothing is "inescapable" unless the Palestinians inject some pragmatism into their negotiating position.