Trying again in Mideast

June 24th, 2015 6:33 pm - updated: 6:33 pm.

First Posted: 7/24/2013

Like second marriages, attempts by the United States to promote a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians represent a triumph of hope over experience. But Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who has engaged in his own version of shuttle diplomacy in recent weeks, deserves credit for bringing the two sides back to the bargaining table. He announced Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would meet in Washington for initial talks within a week or so.

Of course, this initiative could unravel. On Sunday, a Palestinian spokesman warned that talks would be “conditioned on many clarifications about core issues” and that several “sticking points” remained unresolved. But Kerry obviously was confident enough to go public with the announcement, and there are indications that he has been able to finesse objections from both sides that have previously blocked the resumption of talks. For example, while Israel may not formally agree to suspend settlement activity in the West Bank, in practice it may be willing to exercise restraint.

The outlines of a so-called final-status agreement have been obvious for decades and can be found in dusty briefing books dating to the Clinton administration. The Palestinians would finally get an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in exchange for recognizing Israel and relinquishing the dream of a universal “right of return” for the descendants of those displaced when Israel was created after World War II. …

It is true that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always been skeptical of a two-state solution, and that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a weak and unpopular leader (who does not even control the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas). But these complications needn’t be fatal to a resumption of negotiations. For the Palestinians, an agreement would mean not only a long-dreamed-of state but an unprecedented infusion of economic and technical assistance. And a deal would allow Israel to remain both a Jewish and a democratic state, and would spare the country from the condemnations its occupation of the West Bank has provoked in Europe and the U.S. — a source of embarrassment and anger for many Israelis.

It’s a truism that the United States can’t dictate a peace agreement to the Israelis and Palestinians. But this country possesses unique leverage that administrations of both parties have exerted in the cause of a lasting peace. Kerry’s initiative is in that tradition. We hope it succeeds.

Los Angeles Times