Guest Editorial

Trying again in the Mideast


Like second marriages, attempts by the United States to promote a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians represent a triumph of hope over experience. But Secretary of State John Kerry, who has engaged in his own version of shuttle diplomacy in recent weeks, deserves credit for bringing the two sides back to the bargaining table.

He announced that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would meet in Washington for initial talks as early as next week. Of course, this initiative could unravel: This week, a Palestinian spokesman warned that talks would be “conditioned on many clarifications about core issues” and that several “sticking points” remained unresolved.

Yet Mr. Kerry was confident enough to go public with the announcement. There are indications that he has been able to finesse objections from both sides that have previously blocked the resumption of talks.

For example, Israel may not formally agree to suspend settlement activity in the West Bank. In practice, though, it may be willing to exercise restraint.

The outlines of a so-called final-status agreement have been obvious for decades, and can be found in dusty briefing books dating to the Clinton administration. The Palestinians would finally get an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in exchange for recognizing Israel and relinquishing the dream of a universal “right of return” for the descendants of those who were displaced when Israel was created after World War II. If exiled Palestinians are to return to the region, it will be to the new Palestinian state, although there might be financial compensation for some refugees.

Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel, but the city’s Arab sector would serve as the capital of Palestine. The border between Israel and Palestine would generally track the Green Line that served as a boundary between Israel and the Jordanian-ruled West Bank before the 1967 war, but with exchanges of land that would bring major Jewish settlements under Israeli rule.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been skeptical of a two-state solution. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a weak and unpopular leader who does not even control the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas. But these complications needn’t be fatal to a resumption of negotiations. For the Palestinians, an agreement would mean not only a long-dreamed-of state, but also an unprecedented infusion of economic and technical assistance.

A deal would allow Israel to remain both a Jewish and a democratic state, and would spare the country from the condemnations its occupation of the West Bank has provoked in Europe and the United States — a source of embarrassment and anger for many Israelis.

The United States can’t dictate a peace agreement to the Israelis and Palestinians. But this country possesses unique leverage that administrations of both parties have exerted in the cause of a lasting peace. Mr. Kerry’s initiative is in that tradition. We hope it succeeds.

— Los Angeles Times