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Opinion: The war Israelis and Palestinians are really planning

It’s time to figure out a new diplomatic strategy to deal with the Israelis and Palestinians.

A Palestinian youth throws a stone towards Israeli border police during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 19, 2010. Stone-throwing Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in several locations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank amid tensions over Israel's recently announced plan to build houses in East Jerusalem. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

JERUSALEM — There’s an old Arab aphorism: “A man with a plan takes action; a man with two plans gets confused.” Apply that to the Israelis and to the Palestinians, and the nonsensical sequence of recent events in the Middle East starts to fall into a comprehensible pattern.

It’s not a pleasant pattern, because it leads to war.

First, before we get to the fireworks, let’s recap all the nonsense.

The Palestinians refused to talk to the Israelis from December 2008, when a relatively centrist Israeli government made a peace offer the Palestinians rejected. Since then, small economic reforms and big U.S. security aid have made life in the West Bank fairly free of violence. Better, for sure, than life in Gaza, which is still a mess more than a year after the Hamas-Israel war there.

Israelis elected a center-right-dominated parliament a year ago, and Benjamin Netanyahu formed a rightist cabinet. He refused to halt building in Israel’s West Bank settlements, as President Barack Obama demanded. Even when forced by Washington to put a transparently fake freeze on construction he declined to include East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians wouldn’t restart direct peace talks until there was a freeze on the Israeli neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. So the Americans eventually persuaded them to have indirect talks. Without much enthusiasm, the Palestinians agreed.

Why no enthusiasm? Leading Palestinians, including chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, had already started to talk about a new failed round of talks leading quite simply to a “one-state solution.” That means, no division of the land, just a single state in what’s now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. One adult, one vote. Soon enough, of course, that means no Jewish majority and the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Israel largely escaped the financial crisis of the last two years and its citizens spend little time fretting about the Palestinians. In Tel Aviv, the discovery of old bones by workers building an underground emergency room for a hospital led last month to an attempt by ultra-religious politicians to block the construction, and protests by locals who cried out against religious coercion.

No such mass protests against continued building in the settlements. That proceeds, even to the extent that during the last month announcements of new construction in East Jerusalem have caused a major crisis in relations with Washington. In one case, the planned building of a mere 20 apartments in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem forced Obama to take time out of his undoubtedly busy day to discuss it with Netanyahu.

There’s more nonsense, but let this suffice for now.

Back to the Arab aphorism. Who has a plan, and who’s confused?