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Peace Process Sputters at Starting Line

After three lifeless years, the peace process looked to be momentarily gasping for air. That was yesterday; by this morning, it was pronounced dead on arrival.

The cause of all the excitement was a report in the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq that Hamas leader Khaled Meshal—a committed anti-Zionist—had decided to endorse a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. Haaretz picked up the story and reported that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat “is taking Meshal’s statement very seriously.” Meanwhile, leaders from the disparate Palestinian factions planned a meeting in Cairo yesterday to start a unification process, bringing Hamas and Fatah into one government.

Two Palestinian groups uniting on a platform that included the two state solution? That would be big news.

It didn’t take long for things to fall apart. Hamas resoundingly denied the validity of the Al-Sharq report: one senior official claimed the two-state issue was never even discussed, while another reiterated that Hamas “will never agree to giving the Zionist state one inch of the land of Palestine.” And the Cairo meeting has apparently been scrapped, thanks in part to the failure of the Palestinian factions to implement previously agreed-upon policies.

And so we are back to square one. The Palestinians are bitterly divided. One camp would like to sign an agreement with Israel but is too weak to enforce it and too divided, probably, to accept any agreement that Israel, even with its arms being twisted by the United States, would accept. The other group remains committed to the “one state, no Jews” formula for abolishing Israel, expelling almost all the Jews, and re-establishing Palestine in all its glory.

Israelis who don’t want a two state solution (at least not with a viable Palestinian state) can use the resulting stalemate to press for their own goals of more Israeli settlements. The substantial majority of Israelis who want a two state solution (with some caveats) don’t have much of an agenda to push in the absence of of a strong Palestinian partner who is both willing to accept and able to deliver a compromise peace.

And so it goes. As best we can tell, peace is not at hand.

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