Once More, Tensions And Promise In Mideast Conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict qualifies as the oldest established standoff between peoples in modern history. Since 1991, when the United States and the Soviet Union summoned the two sides to a peace conference in Madrid, the efforts have been intense, sometimes appearing breathtakingly close to success.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Following President Obama's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, there are tentative signs of forward movement in the peace process. That's left NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr with a feeling of deja vu.

DANIEL SCHORR: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may qualify as the oldest established standoff in the world. Since 1991 when the United States and the Soviet Union summoned the two sides to a peace conference in Madrid, efforts have been intense, sometimes appearing breathtakingly close to success.

That notably happened during the Clinton administration when a peace agreement founded at the last minute. But each time, a new president has tried to unite the antagonists in some version of the idea of two states living peacefully side by side. There are new frictions to overcome.

Most recently, while special envoy George Mitchell was striving to resume modest contact through so-called proximity talks, the tension was increased, first by the provocative announcement of new Jewish settlement activity at the moment Vice President Joseph Biden was in Jerusalem. Then the Israeli commando raid on a Turkish-led flotilla of relief ships for blockaded Gaza.

And yet, once again, President Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clasped hands before the cameras and renewed the unbreakable bonds between their two countries. They may succeed in helping the limping peace process to its feet, pressing for early face-to-face talks between Israel and the Palestinians. But the current atmosphere is not conducive to agreement.

The basic deadlock remains firm. Netanyahu will not accept a Palestinian state with its own defense capability. The Palestinians will not accept a Jewish state that nibbles away with settlements in occupied territory. But never mind, we are a long way from tackling these ancient deadlocks.

The emphasis now will be on confidence-building measures, if any can be found, to set the stage for more substantive negotiations, once more back from the brink.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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