Should the Palestinian Authority be the main advocate pushing acceptance of the bizarre Goldstone Report in order to demonize Israel at the UN, or might it just stand aside and let a couple of dozen Arab and Muslim-majority states take the lead in doing so? This is - or should be - a minor issue, but it has escalated to push the real barrier to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict into everyone's face once again.
When the US government asked the PA not to be the main sponsor in demanding UN sanctions against Israel, the Palestinian leadership agreed for a few hours. But then, unable to resist flaunting its radicalism and obstructionism, it double-crossed the United States. This step further sabotaged President Barack Obama's efforts to advance the peace process, seemingly his No. 1 international priority.
The Palestinian leadership is once again shooting itself in the foot. It is throwing away a real opportunity for a state; it is sabotaging its relationship with Western patrons.
HOW TO explain this apparent perverseness, which former foreign minister Abba Eban once called "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity"?
The answer is simple: When it comes down to a choice between continuing the conflict and trying to win a total victory that wipes Israel off the map, or making peace and getting a state, the Palestinian leadership always chooses the former.
And when it comes to choosing between being a bit more moderate and gaining Western support, or being demagogically radical and appealing to the most radical forces, the Palestinian leadership chooses the latter. The Fatah-dominated PA doesn't want peace with Israel; it prefers peace with Hamas, its rival that not only murders and tortures Fatah people but - one more irony - is the main beneficiary of the Goldstone Report.
Wishful thinkers beware! Reality is once again battering down your door.
The Obama administration is trying to make peace and wants the PA's cooperation. If the UN goes ballistic and now bashes Israel as an evil, illegitimate war criminal - on the basis of Hamas propaganda, no less, which is all the Goldstone commission really purveys - this will not help the cause of peace and will wreck US policy. Israel will reject more concessions; Arab states will have another rationale for not making peace and will demand that the world punish Israel with sanctions or even extinction.
The Obama administration basically said to the PA: "Look, we're getting you lots of money and diplomatic help on the basis of the idea that you want peace. No president in history has ever been more sympathetic and supportive of you. So stand aside on this issue for a few days. Do us this little favor."
But this is too much for the PA, which now faces protests and criticism at home for daring to make a small tactical concession that has no practical implication.
If the PA cannot even refrain from this kind of behavior because of internal dissension and popular pressure, can anyone expect it to compromise on territory, security measures, an end to the conflict, and the settlement of all Palestinian refugees in Palestine?
Think about that one for five minutes, please.
THIS IS at least the fourth time in the short, nine-month history of the new administration that the Palestinians and Arab states have done this to Obama.
Before the latest development:
â€¢ PA leader Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington for his first trip and said he had no intention of compromising on anything, but would just wait until the United States delivered an Israel that had to give up everything.
â€¢ Abbas refused to negotiate with Israel unless its completely froze construction on all settlements, with no exceptions, despite Obama's desperate efforts to get talks going.
â€¢ Arab states that were asked to make small confidence-building steps toward Israel to help the president said, "No!"
So much for Obama's apologies, his Cairo and UN speeches, strong words of support for the Palestinians (the people supposedly in an intolerable situation and desperate for a state), and his panegyrics for Islam. Flattery, Mr. President, will get you nowhere.
This strategy merely feeds the fires of radicalism. Unfortunately, the peace process of the 1990s and the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 did the same thing. More concessions breed more violence; more apologies deliver more demands.
Remember that the peace process ended when then PA leader Yasser Arafat refused a state, along with more than $23 billion in aid.
Remember that the Palestinians, handed all of the Gaza Strip, made it a launching pad for rockets aimed at Israel, instead of making it a model for launching peace.
Remember that when the Bush administration was trying to be supportive, the PA made a deal through Hizbullah with Iran to bring in massive amounts of arms on a ship. Discovering how the PA had lied turned that administration against them.
Remember that in 1989, when the United States initiated a dialogue with the PLO on the basis of its stopping terrorism, the organization instead dispatched a terrorist unit to gun down civilians on a Tel Aviv beach. This action led to the end of the dialogue.
WAKE UP, people. Peace would be preferable if possible. Peace is a beautiful dream. But that dream keeps getting interrupted by recurring nightmares.
Those who lead nations and are responsible for the lives and welfare of their people, those whose duty is to inform the people, and those who speak out publicly have a duty to cast aside wishful thinking and face the truth, as demonstrated by numerous examples and historical experience:
â€¢ Israeli-Palestinian peace is still a long way off.
â€¢ The PA is unwilling and incapable of making peace.
â€¢ Weakness in dealing with this issue breeds contempt; concessions create more violence and extremism.
â€¢ A responsible policy is one that maximizes stability by keeping Hamas from taking over the West Bank and brings down its rule in the Gaza Strip; minimizes violence by supporting Israel's right to self-defense; and does the utmost to raise the standard of living of Palestinians.
As for Obama and the European leaders, you've had the experience; now learn the lessons.