During this holy week, John Kerry, a man with Jewish grandparents and Catholic upbringing, is trying to pass over old disputes and resurrect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. So far his mission has been like a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem: talking to a wall. Oh sure, each side professes its desire for peace, but each also has a definition it knows is unacceptable to the other and appears in no mood for real compromise. That leaves many during this holy season to conclude that under current leadership, peace doesn't have a prayer.
There's a new flurry of activity in advance of the April 29 target date set by the secretary of state nine months ago, but it's hard to tell whether we're witnessing winds of change or just more wind. Where he once hoped to have a peace agreement by now, he's willing to settle for another nine months of bickering, er, make that talking.
Both sides say they want talks, not so much because they're ready for peace but mostly because they want to avoid a rift with Washington and being blamed for the collapse of any negotiations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from opponents of the two-state approach from the right wing of his own Likud Party as well as a major coalition partner, the Jewish Home Party. They want him to walk away from the talks and, says Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party, unilaterally annex the major settlement blocs, give Gaza to Egypt and let the Palestinians have limited self-rule in the remainder of the West Bank.
Bennett, whose party is the successor to the National Religious Party, is threatening to pull his 12-vote party out of the coalition. Let him go, says Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and call new elections.
Netanyahu is said to be growing weary of Bennett's threats and demands, but it is not clear whether he'd prefer new elections, a new coalition or try to appease Bennett.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are trying to make each other's life miserable by ratcheting up sanctions and recriminations. Israel's moves are primarily economic and local and are the most painful. The Palestinians' are political and diplomatic and also potentially very damaging.
The two risk-averse leaders have to decide whether they want to keep testing each other's tolerance for pain or return to the negotiating table.
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