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Editorial

Israel's lost weekend

Leaked documents and an Israeli report on an attack on an aid flotilla make dim peace hopes even dimmer.

January 24, 2011

Even before last weekend, the news from the Israeli-Palestinian peace front was not good. The most recent round of talks fell apart months ago. The Palestinian Authority is weakened and unsure where to turn; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with terrorist incidents down and the economy growing, has little incentive to move forward. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ripped apart the opposition by leaving the Labor Party. Prospects for near-term solution: low to none.

The weekend's news just added to that sense of stalemate. First came the unauthorized release of thousands of official documents baring secret, inside-the-room details from a decade of failed peace talks. The documents, leaked to Al Jazeera, revealed concessions by Palestinian negotiators on a variety of emotionally charged subjects, including Israeli settlements, refugees and the status of East Jerusalem. Although most of the revelations were hardly shocking to those who follow these things, they seem certain to further damage the credibility of the Palestinian Authority in the eyes of its people, who see no corresponding benefits to make such concessions palatable.

Then came the ruling of the Israeli commission investigating last May's deadly raid on a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip in violation of the Israeli embargo. In a move certain to outrage much of the world, the commission concluded Sunday that Israeli soldiers had acted "professionally" and in accordance with international law. No sooner was the report issued than critics declared that the commission had no credibility and that its results had been preordained.

The next trouble spot: a resolution on Israeli settlements that may come to a vote in the U.N. Security Council. The resolution would reaffirm the view held by most of the world that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are on occupied land and are illegal under international law. The United States faces significant pressure not to veto it, as it ordinarily does with resolutions it perceives to be critical of Israel.

The U.S. position is that settlements are "corrosive" and "illegitimate" but that the issue should be negotiated between the parties, not imposed from New York. Other critics of the resolution — including some who oppose settlements — say it doesn't serve U.S. interests to vote in favor of a toothless U.N. decree that Israel will probably ignore, which will impede negotiations and which would most likely weaken U.S. credibility unless it is willing to follow through, which it won't be.

Fair enough, but on balance, we do not believe the U.S. should veto the resolution if it comes to a vote. Though settlements are almost universally believed to be illegal, Israel has built them steadily since 1967, creating unnecessary impediments to peace.

It would be naive to think that a yes vote would have much positive value, but settlement building is wrong, and a no vote would unquestionably send the wrong message.

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