IT is a pity Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has been so quick to dismiss a serious proposal to get peace talks with Israel restarted without any further delay.
The blueprint was proposed by the Middle East Quartet -- the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN -- following Mr Abbas's appearance at the UN with his statehood application.
The quartet has set out a sensible, if optimistic, timetable for agreement on a negotiating agenda within a month, comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months, substantial progress within six months, and final agreement -- an independent Palestinian state -- before the end of next year. Statehood within a year: it might have been expected that Mr Abbas would have jumped at it.
But the ink was hardly dry on the proposal before he put the kibosh on it and returned to the tired, old mantra of no new talks unless the construction of Israeli settlements is halted and negotiations are based on pre-1967 borders.
Once again Mr Abbas has displayed a lack of flexibility that ill-serves the best interests of the Palestinian people, just as he did in New York when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that since they were both in the same city and the same building at the same time, they should sit down immediately to negotiate without preconditions. Mr Abbas ignored the invitation.
Such obduracy from the Palestinian leader is regrettable. Mr Netanyahu, to his credit, has responded to the quartet by indicating willingness to work towards a deal by the end of 2012. But he has rightly insisted Israel cannot be expected to make the same territorial mistakes over its security that have led to Gaza being turned into what is effectively an Iranian base run by Hamas terrorists. He has recalled that Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, yet that did not calm the militant Islamic storm; it brought it closer and made it stronger. The representative of the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese government is the president of the UN Security Council, the world's premier peacekeeping body.
Given the lessons of history, Mr Netanyahu can hardly be expected to exercise anything other than the utmost caution. Hamas, which only recently reconciled with Mr Abbas's Fatah movement, doesn't recognise Israel's right to exist. It's hell-bent on its destruction. It has rained down thousands of rockets on Israel. It opposes Mr Abbas's statehood bid, declaring the battle for the liberation of all Palestinian land the first priority. It is willing Mr Abbas to fail so it can capitalise on the Palestinian disillusionment to follow.
As much as these are challenging times for Mr Netanyahu, so, too, is Mr Abbas's position far from secure. It is in both leaders' interests to get peace talks going without delay. If Mr Netanyahu is willing to talk without preconditions on the basis of a two-state solution and pre-1967 borders with land swaps, the Palestinian leader should do the same.
Mr Abbas must stop deluding himself. The only way Palestine will achieve statehood is through direct talks with the Israelis. Grandstanding at the UN is no substitute. It can't give Palestine what it wants. Mr Abbas should grasp the opportunity presented by the quartet's proposals, immediately and without preconditions.