One of the few things Western observers of the Middle East tend to agree on, regardless of whether they lean toward the Israelis or the Palestinians, is that Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad has done an excellent job as administrator of the Palestinian Authority.
In early December the security situation had improved enough in Bethlehem for busloads of tourists to come back to visit the birthplace of Jesus and other holy sights in Israel and the West Bank. That was about the only the good news from the Middle East. In the Gaza Strip, the standoff continued between the Israeli government and the Palestinians.
An editorial in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz (April 15) sharply criticized Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert for Israel’s “boycott” of Jimmy Carter during the former president’s recent trip to the Middle East. Olmert refused to meet with Carter; Israeli security personnel were not available to assist Carter’s Secret Service detail.
On the morning of January 25, 2006, I was with a group of American churchpeople at a Palestinian Authority polling place in Bethlehem. Having observed many elections over the years, I have learned to detect the difference between enthusiastic reformers hungry for change and members of an old guard, complacent after too many years in power.
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the Middle East in late March, she took along a plan to provide both Israeli and Palestinian leaders with “a political horizon.” The plan, says Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler, depends on her ability to “coax the Israelis” into giving the Palestinians the glimmerings of a Palestinian state while persuading the Arabs to give the Isr
Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Hospital, a facility that treats Palestinian residents from the West Bank as well as some Arabs from East Jerusalem, has a million-dollar view from its perch atop the Mount of Olives.
Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert traveled to Washington in late May to tell President Bush about his plans for Israel’s future. There is no indication that those plans offer a viable solution to the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories caused by the cutoff of funds to the Hamas government. Olmert blames Hamas for the crisis. Former president Jimmy Carter disagrees.
Sharonism, the Gaza pullout and the birth of Kadima, the new Israeli centrist party, are expressions of an evolution in internal Israeli thinking, just as the political victory of Hamas is an expression of an internal evolution of Palestinian thinking in response to corruption and lack of progress. Taken by themselves, these are healthy evolutions. The problem is that none of these developments evolved in conversation with the enemy next door. There is no peace without conversation, secret or public, nor will there be realistic internal debate that will yield peace or coexistence with enemies.