It's become almost normal for Palestinians and Israelis who support peace to find themselves at the same old roadblock, going nowhere fast. The only thing moving are the extremists, who continue to pave the way to the mutual destruction of both sides.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders refuse to talk about the steps necessary to make peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has imposed several pre-conditions for peace talks to resume. They include the demand for a one-sided end to violence: Palestinians must prevent their extremists from committing acts of violence, but Israel can continue to not only attack Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip with missiles, but they can also target Palestinians in the West Bank.
But Netanyahu's pre-conditions go way beyond what is acceptable. I call them his "no pre-conditions" pre-conditions. The Israelis insist that Palestinians accept Israeli confiscations of West Bank land around East Jerusalem and accept the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, too. Netanyahu has outlined a Jerusalem that remains undivided, merging East and West Jerusalem without any consideration of Palestinian rights in the cities.
Netanyahu has also imposed another pre-condition. Palestinians have accepted Israel's right to exist and recognize Israel as a state. But since the collapse of the peace process more than a decade ago, Israelis have demanded that Palestinians not only accept Israel as a "Jewish" state but to also say the words.
Forget about the fact that when a state distinguishes between its citizens in a racial or religious way, that's discrimination. There are many words for it. Words that are destructive and words that try to keep the door open for reason and yet fail.
In the face of these pre-conditions, Israelis continue to declare publicly and with no shame that they are willing to enter the peace process with "no pre-conditions" but that it is the Palestinians who refuse to make peace.
It's a bizarre circumstance of "no pre-conditions" consisting of a lot of pre-conditions. And they were driven home to French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a meeting he had with the World Jewish Congress last week.
Sarkozy was embarrassed when he was overheard at the G20 Summit in Cannes last fall telling President Barack Obama that Netanyahu is "a liar." Before that, he offered strong words in support of the Palestinians, to encourage them to return to the peace table even without a settlement freeze.
It didn't work, and Sarkozy had to offer something to get the pro-Israel critics off his back. He has since softened criticism of Israeli settlement-building, embracing one of the key points in Netanyahu's list of "no pre-conditions" pre-conditions. And he told Israelis what they needed to hear: that France will stand with Israel in the face of Iran's threats.
Maybe we can just accept that Sarkozy was "taken to the woodshed," an American expression describing how a child is taken out back by a parent and spanked for doing something wrong and to get them back in line. After all, Sarkozy is gearing up for re-election, and the "Let's make Jewish voters happy" strategy has overtaken the "Let's bring peace to the Middle East" strategy.
Even President Obama has dropped his push for Middle East peace based on compromise, barely addressing it in his recent State of the Nation speech. He's running for re-election, too.
So are we to be surprised as the moderate wing of the Palestinian movement continues to erode and the extremists continue to grow? Elections in the West, it seems, are not conducive to promoting Middle East peace.
In the short run, Israelis will find that the growth in Palestinian extremism is good for their goal of blocking statehood and continuing the expansion of Israeli settlements. Maybe all of the Arabs will just up and leave Israel and the West Bank?
It won't happen.
What will happen is that the moderates will become so weak that the turn to violence and more conflict will only become an unavoidable reality.
So is anyone surprised when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas finds himself in a corner in the face of Netanyahu's "no pre-conditions" pre-conditions and makes peace with Hamas?
Israelis argue that settlements impact only 1 percent of the West Bank land, so why are they important as a stumbling block to peace? Palestinians ask the same question. If they're not that important, why not freeze settlements? Isn't peace that much more important?
Sadly, in the Middle East, mathematics and reasons are turned on their heads. The 1 percent and the extremist minority are far more important than the needs of the increasingly less active but larger majority of moderates.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist. To find out more about Ray Hanania and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.