If the health care debate is really moving toward a conclusion for a while, there is a good candidate for the president’s attention about 6,000 miles from Washington.

That is the stalled peace talks on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Former Maine Sen. George Mitchell appeared to have things moving again, with agreements from both sides to have “proximity” talks that could lead to direct negotiations. Vice President Biden, who is popular in Israel, came in for a visit and spoke positively about the solid relationship between the two countries.

But while he was there, it was announced that construction on 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem would be getting under way, drawing angry claims that the Israelis had ended a moratorium on settlements, putting the peace talks in doubt, and drawing harsh words from Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The tone softened Monday as Clinton spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but the problem still remains.

Israel’s coalition government is divided on the issue of Palestinian statehood and Palestinian leadership is weak. It is questionable whether either side could make peace even if the will was there.

Mitchell said what’s needed now “is a period of calm and quiet,” to get both sides to the table. Another thing that might help is some focus from the White House, to bring the parties back from the brink.

 


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