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Mideast peace talks overdue, but odds steep against success

Secretary State John Kerry stands between Israel's Justice Minister chief negotiator Tzipi Livni right Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekas they

Secretary of State John Kerry stands between Israel's Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, right, and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, as they shake hands after the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Tuesday, July 30, 2013, at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Updated: September 1, 2013 6:29AM



For a million reasons, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began this week are bound to fail. For a million reasons plus one — What’s the alternative? — the talks are long overdue.

Two secure and sovereign states co-existing side by side, Israel and Palestine, remain the only viable solution to the conflict, as unreachable as that goal has been, and history will hail the peacemakers. Secretary of State John Kerry, to his credit, revived the talks, which collapsed most recently in 2010, but give credit as well to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who extended an olive branch by agreeing to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, and to the Arab League, which appears to have softened its position on how and where borders should be drawn.

The revived talks are consistent with a welcome pro-diplomacy approach to international affairs that Kerry seems to be embracing with even greater enthusiasm than his predecessor, Hilary Clinton. Kerry also has urged Congress not to ratchet up economic sanctions against Iran — a vote in the House is set for Wednesday — in advance of talks in September with Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate.

If the history of the last decade, with its miserable and inconclusive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has taught the United States anything, it is that diplomacy is too often sold short and a military response is too often oversold. At the same time, diplomacy works best under the pressure of a clock, which is always ticking in the explosive Middle East.

In Israel, demographics alone are putting on the pressure, with the Palestinian population soon to be larger than the Jewish population. As Rachel Kleinfeld, president of the Truman National Security Project, wrote in the Sun-Times last month, “Without a decision to divide into two states, Israel can’t be both a democracy and a Jewish homeland for long.”

Kerry has committed the Israelis and Palestinians to at least nine months of talks, but real results will come sooner rather than later if the two sides are doing anything more than going through the motions. The key issues, such as borders, security, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, have been churned over to the point of exhaustion over some four decades. What will make the difference this time — as it would have before — is the political courage on both sides to compromise and, perhaps, a willingness to simply let some issues slide for now.

As the New York Times reported Tuesday, Kerry’s team is quietly speculating that the goal of these latest talks should be something less than a comprehensive settlement. In the past, the guiding principle has been that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed upon.

These are the tools of peace: Compromise and political courage, realistic goals and committed diplomacy.



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