Every time anything happens in Israel, Israelis always seem to ask themselves — and everyone else who will listen — how will this affect the chances for peace?
It's an interesting exercise, and events, such as the entry of Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party into the coalition of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, make excellent fodder for discussion, with the pros and cons of each side to be considered.
Lieberman's statements about trading Israeli Arab towns for Jewish settlements have been interpreted, whether fairly or unfairly, as racist. He is something of a symbol of the resentment many Jews feel about Arab citizens of the Jewish state, and many friends of Israel here are saying that his inclusion will retard efforts to revive the peace process.
There may well be good reasons for Olmert to rethink his decision concerning Lieberman, but it should be understood that the idea that this decision might scuttle peace is simply off the mark.
Israeli governments can dedicate themselves to withdrawal or to standing pat (as Olmert's coalition appears to be doing in the absence of a Palestinian peace partner), but the notion that either stance has much to do with progress towards peace is fallacious.
It is the Palestinians — and the Arab world in general — that have the power to decide for peace or war, not the Israelis. The past 13 years since the Oslo debacle have proved this. No concession or demonstrated expression of goodwill will convince Palestinians to make peace if they believe it violates their sensibilities, as it apparently does. And so long as the political and religious culture of the Palestinians dictates that the existence of Israel — within any borders and under any leadership — is the source of tension, then there will be no real progress toward peace.
Lieberman may win no popularity contests in either the Arab world or in Washington, but no matter what stands he takes, he will never be the real obstacle to peace. Those obstacles remain in Gaza, Ramallah, Damascus and Tehran, not in Jerusalem.