A new round of Middle East peace talks is set to begin next week with hope for success in short supply. And no wonder. The modern state of Israel is nearing age 70, and in all that time there has been no settlement of the vexing question of how Israel and a Palestinian neighbor state can coexist in peace.
Nor has there even been an agreement on how to create that Palestinian state and what the capitals of it and Israel should be. Both want Jerusalem.
Yet Secretary of State John Kerry deserves praise for ending a five-year freeze in talks even if almost no one imagines a final settlement can be reached in the nine months he has set as the goal. Israeli and Palestinian leaders also deserve praise for finding the courage to renew peace talks when so few hold out hope for success.
Perhaps this lack of hope signals what financial markets often call capitulation, meaning that against all odds the markets begin to rebound just when most investors give up. A weary world is near capitulation on the Middle East and could hardly have lower expectations for success in these negotiations.
Resumption of talks comes when many observers believe Israel is at a crossroads. It has created a successful modern state under terribly difficult circumstances and in a hostile environment. In the Middle East today Israel is a military and economic power without equal. That means Israel now could make peace with the still-stateless Palestinians out of a position of tremendous strength, which would allow it to be both secure and generous.
Given that reality, the old and historically justifiable and verifiable idea that Jews are always and everywhere victims is giving way to the notion that Israelis can set that aside and become effective instruments of peace in ways that may not have been possible until now. There are, of course, risks for Israel if a free Palestinian state is established next to it.
But it’s past time for that to happen given that many people, including some Jews, think of Israel as a powerful force that has abandoned the moral high ground as it persecutes its neighbors, even if that perception is unfair.
Israelis have longed for and worked for peace for decades, and they have been the targets of many people near them who wanted their state and them to disappear. But because the balance of power has shifted it is highly unlikely — barring a nuclear attack by the theological thugs who run Iran — that any of Israel’s Arab neighbors could or would destroy it.
Israelis and Palestinians need to work hard now to create a two-state solution so all people in the region can live out their dreams in peace and in a relationship built on mutual respect. Whether both sides are willing to be serious about that effort will be known soon.
In previous talks, the broad shape of a final agreement has taken shape, though there still is much to untangle and resolve, including the status of the ugly — but effective — wall of separation Israel has constructed to prevent terrorist attacks.
Chief negotiators Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians and Tzipi Livni for the Israelis will need to focus on the future of Jerusalem and the current Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the annexed East Jerusalem. A settlement may well hinge on whether both sides will be willing to share Jerusalem as a capital.
Continued tension in the Middle East because of the stateless Palestinians gives extremists around the world a rallying cry. A successful resolution to the conflict would be a gift to the world.