Conventional wisdom holds that it's a miracle that the international conference on the Middle East even opened at all, and that any resolution of the region's intractable problems is months or even years away.
It is vital to understand that time is not on the side of peace, especially in light of the stated determination of the present Israeli government to continue to build settlements on the West Bank.
Every American president since Lyndon Johnson has maintained that the settlements are either illegal or are obstacles to peace, for the simple reason that settlements amount to the incremental annexation of the West Bank into Israel proper. The West Bank already looks like a honeycomb of Israeli settlements, populated by 100,000 Jews, and if the process continues for any length of time, there will be nothing left to negotiate at Madrid other than the terms of "autonomy" which the Palestinian Arabs of that region will be granted by Israel.
In any peace conference the first step is to freeze the status quo, and if there is to be any peace at the end of this conference, the settlements must stop at once. Judging from public opinion polls, a majority of Israelis recognize this.
But Yitzhak Shamir, the hard-line Israeli prime minister, and his more-hard-line housing minister, Ariel Sharon, do not recognize it. Their goal, implicit or explicit, is annexation of the West Bank -- after which they will then dispense whatever "autonomy" they wish to the Palestinians.
Disputed territory is not an issue; it is the issue. If this conference has any chance of success, it must not be allowed to drift at a leisurely pace. There must be land for peace, or there will be no peace. The only way to speed the process along is for the United States to let it be known that no American money will be forthcoming to subsidize continued incremental annexation-by-settlement of the West Bank, either directly or indirectly.