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Mideast needs more than new peace talks

Aug 2, 2013 By The Philadelphia Inquirer

Can you blame Americans for not getting excited about new peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians? It's not that we don't care, but we know these talks alone won't bring stability to the region.

Uncertainty reigns throughout the Mideast. The Arab Spring, rather than settling how countries will be governed, has muddied the answer to that question in Egypt and Syria, and spawned related problems for Lebanon and Jordan. Meanwhile, Iran cements its hegemony, and Iraq again falls into sectarian strife.

The many predecessors to the new peace talks have also made it difficult to believe success is imminent. Start with the U.N. Security Council resolution in 1967; followed by the Camp David Accords in 1978; the Madrid conference in 1991; the Oslo agreement in 1993; the Camp David talks in 2000; the Taba talks in 2001; the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002; the road map and Geneva Accord in 2003; the Annapolis conference in 2007; and the Washington talks in 2010.

Nor does the timing of the new talks erase pessimism. They seemed to come out of thin air, though White House officials say President Obama "kick-started" the renewal of negotiations during his Mideast trip in March. Since then, Secretary of State John Kerry has taken up the assignment with obvious zeal. He has traveled to the region a half-dozen times, and is said to have made countless phone calls leading up to Monday's meeting in Washington with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian representative Saeb Erekat.

President Obama met the negotiators Tuesday. The talks concluded that day with an agreement to reconvene in two weeks and begin more detailed negotiations.

The devil is in the details, as they say, so the next stage of the talks should determine their worth. The ultimate goal is to create a Palestinian state that can exist peaceably next door to Israel. Establishing its borders has exasperated past negotiators, as has determining control of Jerusalem and whether displaced Palestinians can return to their original homelands.

Perhaps Americans will become more engaged if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas show up in person to negotiate these issues. Having the two heads of state involved wouldn't guarantee a pact, but it would indicate that these talks aren't just for show. An Israeli-Palestinian treaty might help dissipate some of the murkiness of the Middle East's current course.

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