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Peace On All Fronts?

JERUSALEM – Not since the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during President Bill Clinton’s last days in the White House has the Middle East seen such a frenetic pace of peace diplomacy as it is seeing today. A cease-fire has been brokered between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel and Syria have started peace negotiations, and Israel has offered Lebanon a chance to resolve the issues that block a bilateral settlement. Less dramatic perhaps, yet persistent nonetheless, are the peace talks between Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

So is the Middle East at the gates of a lasting, comprehensive peace? Not quite.

Aside from the Annapolis talks, which seem to be going nowhere because of the parties’ irreconcilable differences over the core issues, all the other peace efforts are more tactical than strategic. In none of them do the conditions yet exist for an immediate leap from war to peace, nor do the parties themselves expect that to happen.

It would require bold statesmanship to turn the cease-fire with Hamas into a prelude to political talks. Indeed, both Israel and the United States are adamant about excluding Hamas from the Annapolis process unless and until it recognizes Israel’s right to exist, while Hamas will not abandon its identity as a resistance movement merely to join negotiations that seem unlikely to satisfy the Palestinian people’s minimal requirements.