For every step forward in Mideast peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, there always seems to be two or three steps backward.
Acts of violence surfaced again last week after failure by U.S. envoy Dennis Ross to break a negotiations deadlock. Palestinian protesters chanted "Death to America," burned U.S. flags and hurled rocks at Israeli troops. The troops in turn fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel pellets at hundreds of Palestinian students, injuring several.Those kinds of actions must cease if there indeed is to be peace in the region.
But will they?
That depends on the leaders of the two negotiating parties - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian head Yasser Arafat.
Neither is on course for the Nobel Peace Prize, and Netanyahu seems to be changing the negotiation rules as he goes along. For example, in a U.S.-backed agreement signed last year, Netanyahu pledged to carry out three troop pullbacks by the summer. Now, however, he's only committing to one pullback. He wants to have talks on final borders before carrying out the other pullbacks.
If countries aren't going to abide by signed agreements, what's the use of having them?
Ross has been trying to win support for a U.S. proposal that calls for Israel to withdraw from 13 percent of the West Bank. The phased withdrawals in turn are to be accompanied by Palestinian security measures.
Netanyahu is balking at any withdrawal above 9 percent of the West Bank, which is his initial offer.
The United States is also calling on Israel to freeze construction of homes for Jewish residents on the West Bank.
Neither Netanyahu nor Arafat seems willing to make a unilateral show of good faith, which is too bad.
As Shimon Peres, former prime minister of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, noted while visiting the University of Utah last November, the basic equation of the peace process needs to focus on people, not territories. When the well-being of people replaces politics as the driving force the emphasis shifts from war to peace.
Netanyahu and Arafat would serve their own causes and their people best by remembering that.