The long effort to negotiate a peace agreement based on Israeli and Palestinian states in the Middle East, relaunched by Secretary of State John Kerry at the start of President Obama’s second term, may be reaching a crucial juncture.
Mr. Kerry has offered both sides a framework for agreement. It includes an agenda of the important points to be resolved, suggested approaches to these issues to guide negotiations, and a timetable for their resolution.
To promote acceptance of the framework, and the progress that agreement by both sides would constitute, Mr. Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House last week. He will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington next week.
The public statements of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas are critical. They are taking positions that will enable them — if an agreement is reached — to defend themselves against inevitable attacks from opponents of an accord among their constituents. Assuming that both men are responsible leaders, their current, sometimes shrill, insistence on specific provisions may be a positive sign.
Both will be able to say later that they did their best before making a deal. Both will also be able to say that they were obliged to listen and respond to Secretary Kerry’s dedicated, energetic efforts to resolve their problems.
One loose end is Gaza — a nettle that Mr. Kerry has yet to grasp. Mr. Abbas’ party, Fatah, which rules in the West Bank, and Hamas, which is more or less in charge in Gaza, do not play well together, thus dividing the Palestinian side in the talks.
Egypt has squeezed Gaza economically, increasing Gazans’ fury at their situation. Hamas is permitting jihadists in Gaza to launch rockets into Israel. Israel has responded predictably with air strikes in Gaza. Renewed violence in the conflict area is not a healthy backdrop to the negotiations.
The Israeli-Palestinian talks are still the most important item on America’s diplomatic agenda. President Obama and Secretary Kerry must continue to focus on bringing them to a successful close.
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