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Published: Monday, 8/24/2009

Pushing for peace

THE visit by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Washington was the latest episode in one of the foreign-policy priorities of the new administration, the effort to achieve peace and two states between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Both Mr. Mubarak and President Obama sounded optimistic on prospects for progress, perhaps even direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Both have reason to move toward a settlement, and Mr. Mubarak has been around this block many times during his 28 years as Egypt's leader.

Americans and most of the world want to see Mr. Obama succeed in bringing a successful close to this 61-year-old dispute. But several problems stand in the way.

One of the worst is Palestinian disunity.

It is hard to see how useful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can take place if the Palestinian side is split between Fatah, based in the West Bank, and Hamas, installed in Gaza. Fatah recently held highly touted internal party elections, which changed little, leaving in place as party leader the lackluster Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas just had to suppress a radical Islamist revolt in Gaza, asserting its control there.

Neither Palestinian faction shows much sign of reconciling with the other. Their recalcitrance makes Israeli resistance to a two-state agreement easier to maintain.

On the other side, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also has made matters difficult by insisting on the right of Israelis to expand settlement construction in the West Bank, an integral part of any future Palestinian state.

Mr. Netanyahu's government continues to present Mr. Obama's unwillingness to yield on the West Bank settlements as evidence of a lack of U.S. friendship for Israel, an utterly preposterous contention.

Starting with his strong policy speech to the Muslim world from Cairo in June, Mr. Obama is continuing to employ Egypt as the wheelhorse of U.S. efforts on the Arab side in the Middle East.

As long President Mubarak holds fast, Egypt's maturity, size, location, and military power make it a valuable ally for the United States in a rough and challenging neighborhood.

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