Kerry's coup: Talks resume on the future of the Middle East

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The beginning Monday in Washington of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians was a momentous event, whatever the eventual results.

The problem between the two groups, which has persisted since 1948, is considered to be the root of the multi-front faceoff between the West and the Muslim world which continues to torment both sides. To the United States' credit, it has continued to seek a resolution, in spite of the setbacks. The quest has claimed the lives of other leaders who have tried to play a useful role, including Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who were assassinated by extremists for having sought progress toward an accord.

The meeting at the Department of State last night was intended to set a schedule for open-ended talks, including venues. Therefore, the first meeting was not intended to tackle the issues at the heart of the matter: borders for the two states, return of Palestinians, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the future of Jerusalem and security. Both parties already know the likely resolutions of these issues, but knowing that and reaching formal agreement are different matters.

The resumption of talks, after a gap of three years, is a tribute to the monumental efforts of Secretary of State John F. Kerry. He has made six trips to the region since confirmation as President Barack Obama's second secretary of state in January. Some players in the region have scoffed at his efforts, prideful in their unwillingness to see an agreement concluded.

There are obviously problems on both sides. The Israelis seem determined to keep building and pouring settlers -- now numbering a half-million -- into the West Bank, which would be the core of an independent Palestine. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governments have shown little willingness in the past to take on the settlers and the rest of the Israeli right-wing. On the other hand, Mr. Netanyahu, first, may be coming up to legacy time and, second, is aware of Israel's vulnerability in a neighborhood that is coming unstuck, surrounded by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Syria.

The Palestinians remain divided, between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, no matter what their leaders say, the Palestinians still want their own nation very much, and should click together if prospects improve.

The world will be watching these talks closely. They matter a great deal.



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