Forget the settlements. If the world truly wants to identify an obstacle to peace, it could do much worse than cast its eyes toward Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. For nearly 18-years Amr Moussa, first as Egypt's foreign minister for a decade, and then for the last eight years as head of the Arab League, has worked mightily to poison the atmosphere against Israel. During the heady Oslo days of the mid 1990s, it was Moussa who obstructed Israel's efforts to broaden ties with the Arab world by spearheading efforts to get Egypt and other Muslim countries to refrain from signing the Non Proliferation Treaty unless Israel signed it. Just after the start of the second intifada, Moussa made comments that fanned the flames of the violence, rather than doused them. For instance, on October 25, 2000, he said, "The peace process in its present form is over. No Arab or Palestinian leaders will agree to return to the negotiating table according to the previous rules. The Arabs should now give first priority to help the Palestinians in opposing the Israeli occupation." And earlier this year, in Algeria, he called for a unified Arab strategy to face, according to one Algerian daily, the "Israeli dilapidation of the Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian water sources." In short, Moussa has for years been a constant source of regional negativity. This week, however, Moussa outdid himself. With US envoy George Mitchell trying to line up some normalization gestures from the Arab states toward Israel as part of a package to relaunch the diplomatic process, Moussa did what he could to stand in the way. At a press conference in Cairo with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, Moussa warned there would be a harsh response against any Arab country making gestures to Israel. "It is impossible to talk of normalization when Israel refuses to take real steps," Moussa said. "No Arab state will offer Israel gifts on a silver platter." WHAT MOUSSA evidently has yet to internalize is that peace is not a gift to Israel, but rather to the region. With all the hardships of living perpetually in a state of war, Israel has - amazingly - flourished, and will continue to do so. The same cannot be said of the Palestinians or the Arab world, which Moussa purportedly represents. Steps toward normalization are not "silver platter" gifts to Israel, but a necessary precursor to peace. Israelis won't feel secure enough to make additional significant concessions until they sense their neighbors accept their existence, that these neighbors no longer view them as lepers. And this acceptance would start to become manifest by little gestures like embassies, cultural exchanges, and the ability to fly to Thailand via Bahrain. Moussa plainly hasn't registered this. Again Monday he was quoted as saying Israel "destroyed" everything with its decision to build 455 housing units in the settlements. Conveniently ignoring that these building permits were announced just before the government's expected declaration of the first settlement moratorium in some 30 years, Moussa said Israel moved everything back to "square one." But if there is anything moving the region back to square one, it is Moussa's rhetoric. Sadly, it is this anti-Israel rhetoric that has made him somewhat of an Arab political superstar over the last 20 years, as attested to by the wildly popular 2001 Egyptian song "I hate Israel (but I love Amr Moussa)." That hatred spreads. The New York Times ran a story from Cairo Sunday about the refurbishing of ancient Jewish sites there as part of the controversial Egyptian culture minister's campaign to head UNESCO. One man in the street, a certain Khalid Badr, was asked about his feeling toward Jews and "as casually as if he had been asked the time," replied: "We hate them for everything they have done to us." It is that matter-of-fact hatred, a hatred that Moussa has both stirred and benefited from, that keeps the diplomatic process mired in square one.