Time To Talk

Published November 17, 2006, issue of November 17, 2006.
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The main item of substance at this week’s Bush-Olmert summit, the Iranian nuclear threat, was hardly more encouraging than the political atmospherics. Both leaders agree that the threat is real. Both know there is no way to contain Iran except by building a solid international front against it. But there the agreement ends.

Olmert seems to be under the delusion that Bush, as head of the world’s only superpower, can nudge the Europeans and moderate Arabs into a grand coalition simply because it’s the right thing. Bush’s team understands, as Nathan Guttman reports on Page 4, that no such coalition is possible without progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. They know, too, that Washington — and Jerusalem — will have to engage Syria, whatever they think of its regime. Syria’s help is needed both to escape the Iraqi quagmire and to rein in Palestinian rejectionists and clear the way for a regional deal.

International pressure for an Israeli-Palestinian deal is growing into something like a tidal wave. Just a day before Bush and Olmert met this week, Tony Blair made that point a cornerstone of his annual foreign policy address, calling such a deal the essential key to reducing global tension between Islam and the West. The following day, while Bush and Olmert chatted, Kofi Annan wrapped up a high-profile summit in Istanbul, the so-called United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, with a call for Israel-Palestinian peace as the key to staving off a war of civilizations. And while Annan was talking, the Arab League was concluding a two-day emergency summit in Cairo, convened in response to Israel’s bungled, deadly shelling in Beit Hanun, with an urgent call for — of all things — an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference. It’s time to heed the call and sit down.

Jerusalem and Washington have been stalling for years on the inevitable, pointing out at every opportunity the disagreeable aspects of their putative dialogue partners in Ramallah and Damascus. But time is running out. The rest of the world is losing patience, and the Iranian nuclear clock is ticking.

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