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Close to talking, not close to peace

U.S. Secretary State John Kerry left arrives for press conference Queen AliInternational Airport Friday. . Kerry says Israel Palestinians will

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, arrives for a press conference at Queen Alia International Airport on Friday. . Kerry says Israel and the Palestinians will meet soon in Washington to finalize an agreement on relaunching peace negotiations for th

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Updated: August 24, 2013 6:19AM

All signs point to the Israelis and Palestinians heading back to direct negotiations. But all indications also are that they are returning to talks more out of an effort by each side not to get blamed for foiling peace aspirations than out of any belief that new diplomacy can achieve a meaningful breakthrough.

Fresh evidence that Secretary of State John Kerry has succeeded in pushing the Israelis and Palestinians toward the negotiating table is that he has reportedly picked Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and veteran of the complexities of Mideast diplomacy, to referee the talks.

Israeli media also report that the Jewish state is preparing to release dozens of imprisoned terrorists, something demanded by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Yet to be reported is any similar good-faith gesture by the Palestinians. Don’t hold your breath. If history is any guide, it’s always Israel that antes up a concrete concession to get diplomacy rolling.

No reason has emerged to suggest a new round of negotiations will be successful. Abbas has never demonstrated a willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinian media and schools relentlessly churn out hate propaganda against Israel and Jews. Abbas reigns only in the West Bank; Hamas rules the Gaza Strip and still refuses to negotiate with Israel.

Is it any wonder that the Israelis look around and see no partner for peace? Yet barring some breakdown in the preliminary stages, expectations are rising that negotiations will resume, as the New York Times put it, in the next week or so. What gives? The only conclusion is that neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Abbas wants to be seen as blocking talks. Each wants international goodwill.

Israel achieved an important objective Monday when the European Union finally designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah thugs have tens of thousands of rockets in southern Lebanon aimed at Israel. Perhaps also weighing on the Israelis is their understandable alarm over ill-considered EU action to block research grants, scholarships and cultural exchanges going to Israeli communities in disputed territories. Moreover, polling shows the Israeli public favors Kerry’s work to resume talks, though Israelis also don’t expect them to achieve much.

For his part, Abbas also is responding to outside influences. The Arab League gave its blessing to Kerry’s effort, although if the Arab nations went beyond empty rhetoric and actually opened diplomatic relations with Israel, the Palestinian conflict would be over. Kerry is offering Palestinians new economic aid, another inducement to Abbas.

Abbas may be acting also for domestic political reasons. The coup in Egypt and recent strong street protests against Turkey’s Islamist regime suggest the power of the Muslim Brotherhood may be waning. That organization is the chief sponsor of Hamas, Abbas’s bitter rival for the allegiance of Palestinians.

Given the lack of enthusiasm on either side for the prospects of new diplomacy, Kerry’s effort could be derailed at the last minute. But for now all signs point to a resumption of peace talks after a lapse of five years. Too bad no indicators have emerged to demonstrate that this time will turn out differently than previous peace negotiates that were scuttled by the never-ending hostility to the Jewish state of the Palestinians and their supporters in Arab and Muslim nations.

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