Deceptive quiet: An end to talks puts the Middle East in peril

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Americans are being told that the Middle East peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are dead.

That appears to be true for the moment, but it cannot be for the long run, unless the two parties plus the United States and the rest of the world are prepared to continue living in a climate of unrest, with the sword of war hanging over their heads.

If the talks are done for now, their demise is a foreign affairs setback for President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has devoted endless hours and miles to working with both sides, in conflict since 1948.

Mr. Obama launched his effort in 2009, after his election. His first attempt failed when the Israelis did not stop expanding settlements in the West Bank, and the Palestinians refused to continue talks unless they did. 

 Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama’s first secretary of state, declined to become actively involved in the peacemaking process, understanding the political risks to her that would be involved. Mr. Kerry, however, packed his suitcase and tackled the problem head on.

This most recent effort, underway since last year, flopped when the Israelis reneged on a pledge to free Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians responded by seeking membership in 15 international organizations and reunifying Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, which prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare the talks dead.

Unfortunately, the hostility is still there, dry tinder always waiting for a spark. Israel can’t have its democratic Jewish state without dealing with its growing Muslim and Christian Arab minority. The Palestinians cannot rest without a self-governing homeland for their 11 million people in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and other countries including Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt. Possibilities of violence will continue to exist in the form of a third intifada, or uprising, or in cross-border conflict between Israel and its Arab, Muslim neighbors.

Any suggestion of relief from the tension in the talks through their current stall-out is deceptive. The much bigger and deadly problem remains.

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