Despite a cease-fire, no direct peace talks are on the horizon for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Quite the opposite. Adding more fuel to the decades-long cold war, Israelis have vowed retaliation after the U.N. General Assembly voted last week to give Palestinians "nonmember observer state" status.
That status merely allows Palestinians to take part in General Assembly debates and improves their chances of joining U.N. agencies. Although the United States opposed the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has made it clear that the U.N resolution does not "create a state where none indeed exists or change the reality on the ground."
Yet Israel has decided to build more homes for Jews on lands seized in the 1967 Six-Day War 3,000 new homes in the West Bank as well as prepare construction of a 4.6-square-mile project near Jerusalem known as E-1. That would effectively cut the occupied West Bank in two and make establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, impossible.
The United States should take a strong stand not just voice muted criticism against expanded Israeli settlements. Before there are no moderate Palestinians left with whom to negotiate, the United States, Israel and the international community need to take steps to bolster moderate Palestinians, including President Mahmoud Abbas or the radical Islamic movement Hamas, which has control over Gaza, will continue to gain.
Though far from perfect, Abbas has accepted Israel's right to exist and cooperates with Israeli defense forces. But if moderate Palestinians in the West Bank collapse and the idea of a two-state solution collapses, then the world is stuck with a one-state solution. Palestinians then surely will press for equal citizenship in Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories, which Israel surely does not want.
To provide Palestinians a clear alternative to Hamas, the moderates have to show some successes. Abbas has to be able to offer Palestinians some concrete prospect of a real Palestinian state not an entity which is less than a state and an end to expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
Thus, announcing expanded settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem is a major strategic blunder that prevents Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Israelis ought to draw inspiration from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a realist, who said, "Peace you don't make with friends, but with very unsympathetic enemies. I won't try to make the Palestinian Liberation Organization look good. It was an enemy, it remains an enemy, but negotiations must be with enemies."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a forum this week that "America and Israel must do better at demonstrating not just the costs of extremism but the benefits of cooperation and coexistence."
The United States must press now for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks without delay or preconditions on a long-term two-state solution. The time for tsk-tsking is over.