Freep (Editorial)
August 30, 2010 - 12:00am

"When you're dealing with the Middle East, 2,000 years is the normal wait for something to happen."

So said Marlin Fitzwater, White House spokesman under the first President George Bush, more than 20 years ago. And, indeed, it seems as though in the generations-long quest for Middle East peace, Israel and the Palestinians have been in an endless cycle of negotiations punctuated by violence and hope destroyed by hatred.

So there is an understandable lack of optimism about the relaunch this week of U.S.-sponsored peace talks in Washington. Israeli and Palestinian leaders didn't help by immediately disputing the agenda and goals for the effort, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expects will last a year.

Even the invitation was contentious, with Palestinian leaders insisting it come from the so-called "Quartet" of the U.S., Great Britain, Russia and the European Union, rather than from the U.S. alone. And it appears talks will collapse quickly if Israel resumes construction of settlements on disputed land.

But the prospect of tough going at the table and the specter of so many past failures are not reasons enough to abandon efforts to take one of the world's chronic hot spots off the burner. Younger generations especially of Israelis and Palestinians need to believe there is hope for a more stable, peaceful future and that the U.S. is committed to being an honest broker for both sides.

"Once we are into direct negotiations, we expect that both parties will do everything within their power to create an environment for those negotiations to continue constructively," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "... It will be incumbent upon both the Israelis and Palestinians to avoid steps that can complicate that negotiation."

On the surface, things don't look that complicated. Israel wants security guarantees. The Palestinians want adequate land to create a viable state. But throw in 60-plus years of animosity, distrust and bloodshed, and just getting the two sides back together has to be considered progress.

Perhaps the operative conduct in the negotiating room ought to be the one they use during standoff scenes in the movies: Nobody make any sudden moves.

That's not to trivialize a serious situation. It means only that the participants, including the U.S. representatives, have to resist their worst reactionary instincts in favor of thoughtful responses.

Back in December 2009, when President Barack Obama was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize, it was widely considered aspirational, something the Nobel committee hoped he would be inspired to earn through his role in the world. If his administration can claim meaningful progress toward lasting peace in the Middle East, Obama will have justified that hope -- and delivered it.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017