Once again, after nearly a century, Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating an end to the conflict over sovereignty of the same land. Since the Madrid Conference in 1991, all American presidents tried, each in his own way, to sit both parties down until they achieved peace, and none were able to crown efforts with success.
In the last months of his second term, Bill Clinton came the closest, but his attempts were spoiled by the second Intifada. At the end of his presidency, the Labour government in Israel acknowledged Clinton's progress, which included the establishment of a Palestinian state, an essential legacy for those who wanted to achieve peace.
One year before leaving the White House, Bush's Annapolis summit failed. However, his vision of two states living together in proximity, peace and security contributed to a general acceptance of the right to Palestinian statehood from more conservative public sources, including Israel.
Now, this is the hour of Obama, whose ideas about the peace process are the core of an overall strategy for the region that includes withdrawal from Iraq, containment of Iran's nuclear threat and the unraveling of Taliban rebellion between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda maintains its winter quarters.
The challenge is probably excessive, although Obama has placed it at the top of his priorities. One can already count on a boycott by extremists on either side and the skepticism of the majority after so many failures. There are difficulties of all kinds: the acts of terrorism against settlers; the blockade of Gaza; the continuation of the settlements; the division of the Palestinian camps and Israeli political fragmentation, among many others. It is important not to forget Obama’s difficulties with conservative public opinion, such as being resented for Bush's failures, not to mention the neoconservatives, who are more disposed to rouse a clash of civilizations before allowing a Democratic president to achieve success.
Low visibility from the Europeans at the inaugural conference is also regrettable. There were only two major partners present from Bush's preemptive war: Tony Blair, now a representative for the EU through the change in rebate rules after twenty years, and Aznar, with his taunts against Obama, whom he accuses of favoritism towards Islamic countries, in tune with the extreme Right in America.
Despite these difficulties, necessity has opened a new window for peace. Interventions on the first day, including those of Netanyahu and Abbas, plus the work plan presented by expert and successful negotiator George Mitchell, permit one to hope that this time it will not end quickly and bloodily, like every other time.