AFTER TOO many detours, President Obama’s special Mideast envoy, former senator George Mitchell, is finally taking up the role of go-between in indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. All three parties to these talks have a profound interest in a conflict-ending, two-state peace agreement. To have a realistic hope of reaching that goal, however, Israelis and Palestinians must adhere to one ground rule: Neither side can allow provocations from any quarter to abort the negotiations.
Without doubt, determined spoilers — be they members of Hamas or extremist Israeli settlers — will try to sabotage the talks. These provocations will be aimed at one result: Forcing the other side to demand that the negotiators curb their most radical elements, an almost impossible task. The radical elements are not allies of those at the negotiating table. They are the common enemies of the peace process itself.
And yet both Israelis and Palestinians continue to perpetuate the idea that mainstream leaders can control their fringes. Palestinians were understandably outraged last week that a West Bank mosque was set on fire, but wrong to blame the Israeli government. Meanwhile, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing an “index of Palestinian incitement’’ to argue that Israel cannot make peace until Palestinian extremists are thwarted.
Whatever the justice of such complaints, they cannot be allowed to undermine negotiations. Mitchell should insist that Israelis and Palestinians adopt the approach of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who famously vowed to negotiate as if there were no terrorism and fight terror as if there were no negotiations.