Israeli border guards patrol Jerusalem's Old City's Damascus Gate, on March 8, 2010.
On Monday, Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to begin indirect talks -- brokered by Americans.
The move represented the Obama administration's "first substantive diplomatic achievement" in the peacemaking process that had been mired in a 14-month deadlock, according to The Associated Press. But prospects were undermined by Israel's announcement that it would resume building houses in the West Bank. The Obama administration is hoping the indirect talks will soon lead to face-to-face negotiations, but with a hard-line Israeli government, a fractured Palestinian leadership and an unwillingness to meet face-to-face, is there any hope for progress?
Time Magazine's Tony Karon notes that it's been 20 years since the start of the Oslo peace process and puts it into disquieting perspective. "[That] the two sides are no longer even negotiating directly but instead communicating via the Americans is a clear sign of just how grim the prospects have become for achieving peace through bilateral talks," he writes. "Unfortunately, that shared goal is not to reach a final agreement on a two-state solution to their conflict...the mutual goal in the latest round of talks is to avoid being blamed for their failure."
Writing in the popular Israeli daily Haaretz, David Zonsheine makes an appeal for Israel to do what has proved to be impossible to this point: "Israel must talk to Hamas. Not secretly. Not indirectly...Just as the United States regularly talks to the Israeli opposition, Israel should maintain a dialogue with the Palestinian opposition. The dialogue should cover all core issues including a final settlement."
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg argues that the expanding settlements, and the ideology behind it, pose a major threat to any peace talks, indirect or not. "It is undeniably true that Jewish fundamentalists wield disproportionate power in Israeli decision-making; it is true that a small minority -- fundamentalist settlers -- has kept Israel entangled in the lives of the Palestinians on the West Bank," he writes.
In a column noting that Obama's domestic issues have forced him to put his "policy agenda on the back burner," The Guardian's Olivia Hampton argued the U.S. can't be relied on to force concessions in the peace process. "Arab capitals were buoyed when Obama initially dared confront Israel over settlements. But when pressure mounted in Washington and around the country against harming U.S. relations with Israel, the president quickly backed down and made amends – somewhat – with hawkish Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu," she writes.
Wesley Pruden, of the Washington Times, thinks it is in Israel's best interest to stay on its hard-line course in the face of two threats: the Palestinians and the White House. "The Palestinians will always find a reason to find a fly on the pastrami..." he writes. "Mr. Obama reserves his sweet talk for Arab provocateurs; he made his apology tour of the Muslim world early in his presidency but still can't find time to visit America's only reliably democratic ally in the Middle East."