As peace talks resume, lets keep hope alive

It is possible that the new round of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, launched this week in Washington and brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry, will bear fruit.

We pray for a real end to the conflict, but we are not holding our breath.

Ever since the 1993 Oslo accords, the road to peace has been littered with failed talks, doomed agreements and unspeakable violence. Since the last round broke down nearly three years ago, Israelis and Palestinians have lapsed into a tense, but relatively stable, status quo. Thus neither side showed much eagerness to get back to the table.

But we do credit Kerry’s persistence. The secretary has set up an intriguing framework: total secrecy, a media blackout, a nine-month timeline and everything on the table, including contentious final-status issues such as Jerusalem and a Palestinian “right of return.”

One concession Kerry extracted from Israel was the promised release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, many of them with Jewish blood on their hands. Prisoner releases like these cause much anguish for Israelis, especially for the families of terror victims forced to watch the killers of their loved ones go free.

In return, the Palestinians agreed to come to the table without preconditions, notably without demanding a settlement freeze in the West Bank.

The most immediate payoff for Israel during these talks would be a period of calm, however temporary. No third intifada, and no suicide bombers or other attacks, at least any originating in the West Bank. If Israel can gain nine months of tranquility, that’s a good thing.

Gaza is another story. Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the territory with an iron fist, wants nothing to do with the talks, and has said it will not abide by any resulting agreements. There is nothing preventing Hamas from firing more rockets into Israel, no matter what Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agrees to.

That being the case, it’s hard to see how these talks will end up any differently from those that came before. Success would require both sides to make unprecedented, unpopular sacrifices that neither seems ready to make.

Could Israel really withdraw thousands of its citizens from the West Bank? Would Palestinians really lay down their weapons and abandon their claims on Haifa and Tel Aviv? Would Jerusalem really become a divided city? Cherished dreams die hard.

Of course, sometimes history has a way of surprising even the most hardened cynic. Perhaps Kerry has chosen the right moment to act. In the end, what other choice do we have?