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Published: Monday, 5/2/2011

Peace plan problems

THE stalemate in negotiations between Israel and Palestinians over the future of the two peoples' states seems about to be replaced by new trouble.

Last September, President Obama launched what he said would be a year of intensive talks under U.S. stewardship to reach an agreement based on the goal of two recognized states, living side by side in peace. The talks broke down over Israel's unwillingness to stop building settlements on disputed West Bank land, and Palestinian refusal to proceed without a cessation of settlement construction.

Now Palestinian negotiators are taking a new approach, fortified by the apparent healing of the rift between their two principal factions, Fatah and Hamas. They plan to ask the United Nations General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state based on the borders that existed prior to the 1967 war.

They appear to have enough votes to obtain such recognition. That won't change much of anything, but it will make Israel's life and international standing more problematic.

The United States holds a veto as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. It might be able to stall a General Assembly vote, but that would cast it in an unfavorable light, especially since Mr. Obama's attempt to revive the peace talks has failed and he seems to have disassociated himself from the effort.

Republican lawmakers have invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. That gives him an opportunity to describe a different route to peace in a very stressed Middle East.

Various sources are pressuring Mr. Obama to come up with a new Middle East peace plan. That seems premature, since both sides have shown so little cooperation with his previous effort. In any event, four months remain on the clock for the current plan.

Mr. Obama should not abandon his initial effort. He should tell the two sides -- emphatically -- to go back to the table. He should let the deadline for his original approach and the coming U.N. showdown increase the pressure on both parties for an agreement.

Above all, he must show each side it will pay a high price for ignoring him.

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