The Israeli-Palestinian standoff shows no sign of getting better, and it may soon be getting worse.
Both parties, under pressure from their own constituencies, are frozen in place. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not halt settlement activity and offers only "restraint" — a nonstarter for peace negotiations. Netanyahu calls for immediate negotiations looking toward an independent Palestinian state. But his precondition is a demilitarized state — another nonstarter. A state that cannot defend itself is not a sovereign state.
Protracted deadlock is not a new feature of the oldest established conflict in the world. But the tension has been heightened by a continuing dispute over the United Nations report on the Israeli attack on Gaza in January. The report concluded that the attack represented an overreaction to the missiles fired into Israel from northern Gaza. Israel denounces the report as biased.
All this tends to undermine the authority of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his rivalry with the more militant Hamas in Gaza. Abbas has responded by threatening to retire. That may be a stratagem intended to force the hand of Israel, but maybe not. The resignation of Abbas would mean the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which has been acting as a sort of shadow government on the West Bank.
The Obama administration has been strenuously working to find some common ground between the Palestinians and Israel. Special envoy George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama as recently as Monday have all appealed to Netanyahu to moderate his position on settlements to keep Abbas in the game.
So far, at least, Netanyahu stands firm. And if the moderate Abbas steps down, this opens the way to Hamas, which has been designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization.