In spite of the attention that problems such as chemical weapons and the civil war in Syria command, the main event in the Middle East remains the continuing Israeli-Palestinian talks, which seek a resolution of that fundamental 65-year-old conflict.
The latest talks began July 30 in Washington, due to the determination of Secretary of State John F. Kerry. He made the re-establishment of these talks, which had fizzled out in late 2009 after President Barack Obama had launched them, his top priority. To that end, he traveled to the region six times, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
It is hard to say how the talks are going. The parties to them, in Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, have been close-lipped about their progress. The two sides have been operating on the basis that prospects for success are improved by an absence of public and media discussion of the state of play. Mr. Kerry is presumably following the discussions closely, despite the events in Syria. He met with Mr. Netanyahu Sept. 15, no doubt to assure himself that the Israelis are still committed to the negotiations.
The Israelis, in general, had something of a setback as the United States chose to work with the Russians to avoid a showdown in Congress on attacking Syria and decided instead to approach the problem of the use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war through the Bashar Assad regime's agreement to see the weapons destroyed. The Israelis were in the process of lobbying heavily in Washington through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for congressional authorization of a U.S. attack on Syria.
The Syrian government has also now pledged to sign the United Nations Convention on Chemical Weapons, leaving hanging the awkward fact that, in the Middle East, Israel has yet to ratify it and Egypt hasn't signed it.
These are, however, only bumps in the road toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which still is the most important issue in the region, with implications for better relations between the West and the Muslim world in the long run. These talks must continue and succeed.