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Kerry’s admirable Mideast push faces daunting obstacles

U.S. Secretary State John Kerry speaks news conference Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei Monday.  |  JACQUELYN MARTIN~AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a news conference in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei on Monday. | JACQUELYN MARTIN~AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: August 3, 2013 6:20AM

You have to admire the grit and determination of Secretary of State John Kerry in his high-stakes drive to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. You’ve also got to wonder what he sees as the grounds for hope that any new talks will turn out any differently than past well-meaning efforts that crashed on the rock of implacable Arab hostility to the Jewish state.

Kerry just wound up his fifth trip to the Holy Land in three months, one filled with marathon meetings and shuttle diplomacy between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry left expressing conviction that he made “real progress” toward getting the two sides back to direct negotiations and pledged to return to the region soon to keep the pressure on.

It’s clear Kerry wants talks to head off a new Mideast debate in the United Nations General Assembly in September. He’s certainly right to worry that Abbas will use the Palestinians’ new status as an observer entity at the U.N. to make mischief by perhaps pushing bogus charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court. Israeli officials might reasonably wonder whether Abbas will try to manipulate Kerry’s effort or any resumption of talks and their subsequent failure against Israel in U.N. proceedings.

While Kerry’s fears about U.N. grandstanding by the Palestinians and their Israel-hating supporters are well founded, it’s hard to see why he thinks any talks — assuming he can get Abbas to drop pre-conditions for them — can be fruitful.

Little exists in the Middle East to encourage hope. The one Palestinian figure who inspired trust in his integrity, Salam Fayyad, has stepped down — forced out, more likely — as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority despite Kerry’s lobbying against it. Fayyad had tried to bring honesty and transparency to the Palestinian governing body notorious for inefficiency, waste and corruption. That’s not encouraging in light of Kerry’s use of potential economic aid and investment as a carrot to get Abbas to drop his obstinacy on preconditions for talks.

And the Palestinians remain divided between the rule of Abbas in the West Bank and the Islamist dictatorship of the terrorist organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Where can Israel see a two-state solution in that mess?

And in both branches of the split Palestinian world, the campaign of hate against Israel and Jews goes on unabated. Exhibit A: Abbas himself, in an interview with a Saudi newspaper, advanced the ludicrous allegation that Israel harbors “an evil and dangerous plot to destroy” the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and replace it with a new Jewish temple.

The wider Arab world is aflame with upheaval, revolution, civil war, sectarian bloodshed and Islamist fanaticism. The death toll in Syria’s civil war has passed 100,000 with no end to the chaos in sight and is threatening to spill over into neighboring countries. Shiites and Sunnis slaughter each other in country after country. Iraq, abandoned by the Obama administration, is in danger of falling under the sway of Iran. Tehran doggedly pursues nuclear arms. Hezbollah has 40,000 rockets in southern Lebanon aimed at Israel. Egypt is in turmoil as President Mohamed Morsi confronts millions of protesters trying to bring down his Muslim Brotherhood regime and the country sinks deeper into economic crisis.

A new poll shows most Israelis support Kerry’s effort to restart peace talks. But it also shows that most Israelis don’t think that under current circumstances a permanent peace deal is possible. Who can blame them?

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