World attention was galvanized last week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Such crude, far-right rhetoric plays right into the hands of forces for war and domination. The Iranian government itself quickly backtracked, emphasizing that Iran is committed to its obligations under the UN Charter and has never tried to use force or threats against another country.

Amid the torrent of condemnation Ahmadinejad’s comment evoked, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat’s response deserves special attention.

“Palestinians recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist and I reject his comments,” Erekat told BBC News. “What we need to be talking about is adding the state of Palestine to the map and not wiping Israel from the map.”

The incident highlights the complexity of the long-standing crisis in the Middle East, now greatly exacerbated by the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite its formal withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government continues its military and economic suppression of the Palestinian people’s national and human rights, even though a majority of Israelis would like to see a two-state solution to the long and deadly conflict. Despite occasional hand-wringing, Washington has done nothing to move its closest Middle East ally to take a more reasonable position.

Meanwhile, Israel has threatened Iran with military attack over nuclear facilities the International Atomic Energy Agency says are entirely lawful. Iran, now surrounded by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been named part of the “axis of evil” by President George W. Bush.

There is a way out of this deadly snarl. It involves the Bush administration acknowledging that the only sane solution to its Iraq disaster, which has cost over 2,000 U.S. lives and countless Iraqi ones, is to end the occupation and withdraw U.S. troops now. Washington must press Israel to follow UN resolutions and support a viable, sovereign Palestinian state.

Those actions will set the stage for peaceful, mutually acceptable resolution of the region’s remaining conflicts.

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