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Washington Post: What Would Netanyahu Do for Peace?

May 16, 2011

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In this Washington Post op-ed, David Makovsky, distinguished fellow at and Director of the Washington Institute's Project for Middle East Peace Process, argues that when Netanyahu addresses the U.S. Congress next week, he had better come prepared with a plan to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Just a few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's upcoming visit to Washington had the makings of a confrontation amid U.S. dissatisfaction over peace policy. Then Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a power-sharing arrangement with Hamas. Although Washington cannot easily demand that Netanyahu make major concessions on peace as Abbas joins forces with a group sworn to Israel's destruction, the Israeli prime minister should still arrive this week with a plan for renewed peace talks.

Concerns about the Palestinian unity government are understandable. The Abbas-Hamas deal jeopardizes important gains in the West Bank of the past four years: the exemplary economic stewardship of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who oversaw 9 percent annual growth at a time of global economic recession; and the security cooperation between Israel and the PA, which has led to an unprecedented calm after several years of bloody violence.

Israel's reaction to the Hamas-Fatah pact has been to hunker down, hoping that the unity government will collapse under the weight of the parties' differences. Yet paralysis carries its own risks. The U.S. partners in “the Quartet” — the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which joined Washington in 2006 to lay out steps by which Hamas must reform should it want to become a legitimate interlocutor in the peace process — have cautiously welcomed the new government with hopes, as opposed to demands, that Hamas will evolve, though some have championed the fact that cabinet ministers in the new body are affiliated with neither Hamas nor Fatah. A majority of countries is likely to recognize a Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly this September.

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