Louder than words

February 27, 2007

Israel's recent hunt for Palestinian bomb-makers and gunmen in Nablus shut down the West Bank city, forcing thousands into their homes under a military-imposed curfew. Reports of barricaded streets and armored convoys vividly convey Israel's hegemony in this conflict. They also reinforce the impotency of Palestinian leaders whose warring philosophies have compromised their ability to advocate for their people.

But most of all they underscore the Bush administration's apparent lack of interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can't effect change simply by convening meetings with Mideast leaders, as was evidenced by her most recent trip to the region. She arrived soon after Saudi Arabia brokered a cease-fire between Palestinian factions. Saudi Arabia also received a commitment from Palestinian political leaders to form a unity government. But a new government won't move the process forward unless the militant group Hamas recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism - its leaders have done neither - and the administration has refused to intervene without that commitment.

A negotiated settlement would require such recognition. But the administration's uncompromising stand, its lack of imagination and its absence of diplomacy are exacerbating the situation and making the prospect of a settlement that much more remote.

That said, the intransigence of the elected Hamas government - and its exiled leaders in Damascus - has cost Palestinians plenty. The loss of millions in international aid has devastated the economy, and a U.N. World Food Program report due out within days shows that nearly half of the Palestinian population is "food insecure," or unable to ensure that their families have enough to eat. Many workers go unpaid, and idleness breeds violence.

Israel complicates the situation with its military crackdowns, such as the raids in Nablus, and expansion of West Bank settlements. It also refuses to remove illegal settler outposts where about 2,000 Israelis live.

President Bush was the first American president to publicly endorse an independent Palestine as part of a two-state solution. Ms. Rice continues to maintain that it is a top priority. But this is the classic case of actions - or should we say inactions? - speaking louder than words.

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