Finding a Way Back Toward a Two-State Peace

In his trip, President Obama must put Israel and Palestine on the track to peace.

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As for the Israelis, newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry has the capacity to develop a relationship with Netanyahu based on his record of valuing mutual confidence and trust among the parties and his deep knowledge of the region. He understands the critical need to build a relationship with the Israeli people through Netanyahu, without which he cannot make progress anywhere. Netanyahu came to power after the initiatives by both Barak and Olmert had been rejected, first by Yasser Arafat and then by Abbas. The result was that Israeli leaders became much more cautious on peace efforts.

Nearly five years ago, when then-senator Obama visited much-rocketed Sderot in Israel, he remarked: "I will not wait until a few years into my term or my second term if I'm elected, in order to get the process moving. … But I also think there's a population on both sides that is becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress. And where there's hopelessness and despair, that can often turn in a bad direction."

It remains in question whether the time has passed, whether either Netanyahu or Mahmoud Abbas now has the authority and legitimacy of their predecessors to make the painful decisions on borders, security, refugees, and Jerusalem that are required to end the conflict.

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It is no wonder that some Israelis are beginning to think that a workable, ironclad, conflict-ending arrangement is increasingly unlikely. The surest route to a durable peace, they feel, may be establishing defensible borders rather than trying to negotiate a solution.

If Abbas is not willing to sign any kind of a peace agreement, the Israelis cannot allow themselves to remain in such a deadlock. They may well have to think about demarcating a border within which there will be a Jewish majority for generations, while on the other side there is a viable Palestinian state that can capture their dreams and aspirations. This means retaining the settlement blocks and outlining a meticulous security arrangement to prevent rockets being launched into Israel from Judea and Samaria.

President Obama will be forgiven for his unfulfilled promise in Sderot if he is very effective on this visit, so as to put both parties firmly on track toward the preferable course: two states at peace.

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