Uphill battle for renewed Mideast peace talks
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Uphill battle for renewed Mideast peace talks

Can the Mideast peace talks, scheduled to begin on Thursday, succeed? And – if such a thing is possible – how will we measure success?

• Will there be a cessation of hostilities? Not likely, since recent aggression has emanated not from Fatah but from Hamas, which is not involved in the Washington meetings. Nor do we have any reason to assume that Hamas will change its stripes. A Hamas leader, dismissing the peace efforts, told the Huffington Post that change will only “be accomplished by force.”

• Will there be immediate agreements over settlements? Unlikely, since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has many constituents to please, with some in a position to topple his government.

Whatever happens at the initial three-hour meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas, Bibi has it right in suggesting that only regular, ongoing meetings between the two leaders will bring about any kind of positive change (see page 25).

It is unfortunate, though perhaps inevitable, that the two sides have not yet committed to the agenda for the talks. Still, the very fact that they will take place at all will have to serve as victory enough for now.

Many people do not wish the players well: Hamas has expressed its displeasure by orchestrating the cold-blooded killing of four Israeli civilians near Hebron. That might well be construed as a response to George Mitchell’s oft-repeated statement that the United States would welcome the group’s full participation in talks “once they comply with the basic requirements of democracy and nonviolence that are a prerequisite.”

Less violent but perhaps equally influential, some members of Netanyahu’s own cabinet have vowed to walk out of the government if he compromises in any way on the settlement issue – while Abbas has said he will walk out if Netanyahu does not sustain the 10-month partial moratorium on settlement expansion, which lapses Sept. 26.

Ironically, just as Netanyahu has recognized that real progress – measured not just in greater national security but in economic and diplomatic improvements as well – will take a long time to accomplish, those who do not seek peace have vowed to be equally patient in waging aggression.

As we enter a new year, let us pray that peace – despite its many obstacles – will prevail.

L.G.

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