Current efforts at negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians stalled almost as soon as they began, and the prime factor in the stalling was the contentious issue of Israel continuing to support the building of new settlements in territories that are supposed to be subject to negotiation. Here is how Tom Perry, reporting from Ramallah for Reuters, summarized the state of play at the beginning of this week:
[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said on Monday he would be willing to request another freeze [on settlement construction] from his cabinet if the Palestinians recognised Israel as a Jewish state.
He said it would be a "trust-building step," while some Palestinian and Israeli commentators questioned whether the proposal was only a ploy to try to shift blame onto the Palestinians should the peace process collapse.
The Palestinians ruled out the idea -- something they see as a major concession that would be tantamount to political suicide for a leadership whose credibility has already been badly damaged by the failure of past peace talks.
This morning Palestinians have come up with a counterproposal, which may dodge that bullet of political suicide:
The Palestinians are seeking a map from the United States showing where Israel sees its final borders and making clear whether they include Palestinian land and homes, an official said on Wednesday.
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Yasser Abed Rabbo was responding to a U.S. call for the Palestinians to present their own ideas in response to an Israeli proposal they recognize Israel as a Jewish state in return for curbs on settlement building -- a declaration they have long opposed.
"What is required from the American administration and Israel is that they present us with the map of the state of Israel that they want us to recognize," Abed Rabbo told Reuters.
"Is this map on the '67 borders or does it include Palestinian land and the homes we live in?" he said, referring to the year when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a Middle East war.
This is a rather innovative way to break the current impasse. If Israel wants Palestinian recognition, then they must first provide a clear definition of the boundaries of the territory to be recognized. I am sure that a lot of innovative effort will go into coming up with reasons for Israel rejecting this proposal, but where will the United States stand on it? Are we willing to accept that negotiation cannot begin before grounds for negotiation have been established, or shall we simply sit back and wait for the next round of Israeli excuses to endorse?