In the right-wing Washington Post, George F Will today posits the absurd argument that "the biggest threat to [Middle East] peace might be the peace process -- or, more precisely, the illusion that there is one". This illusion, he writes, masks a reality of Palestinians "extorting concessions from Israel" in the name of an imaginary "momentum".
What makes Will's assertion so untenable is his blinkered insistence on Israel's right to expand its settlements in East Jerusalem: a position that is at odds with international law (under which the area is designated as occupied territory) and insensitive to the critical tensions that have stifled past efforts towards stability in the region.
Will grumbles that "Palestinian officials are demanding that the moratorium [on building] be extended as the price of their willingness to continue direct talks with Israel", but surely this is an understandable request. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state, and the continued illegal settlement of the region by Israel is bound to be a sore point. Whether the settlement activity is justifiable or not, it would only undermine any hope of reaching a diplomatic solution were it to continue (as it most certainly will).
Will writes that "no Israeli government of any political hue has ever endorsed a ban on construction in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, where about 40 per cent of the capital's Jewish population lives". But the international community does not recognise Israel's right to expand its territories, even into largely Jewish neighborhoods. The state's demolition-happy attitude to the Palestinians living there, meanwhile, speaks of an ingrained attitude of entitlement among Israeli officials that will do more harm to the chances of stability than the "mirage" of the peace process.
Concessions must come from both sides. But Will is deluded if he thinks that Israel refraining from aggressive acts of settlement on disputed land constitutes a concession at all -- it is, in fact, its duty.