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It is a new day, never mind that Israel has had the American government in its back pocket for the better part of a century. The emergence of the J Street bunch (pro Israel, pro peace) and other groups, including Americans For Peace Now, are making their presence and preferences known. They want peace and are pragmatic about how to get it. If that means talking to Hamas, then so be it.

At the same time, conditions within Hamas are easing toward accepting an Israeli state within its 1967 borders. Not openly or officially, but by deed.

Over half of Palestinian citizens in Gaza and the West Bank desire peace and agree that negotiations should start.

Israel is another matter. The recent election was too much of a dead heat to gauge the present temper. But the trend is definitely toward Likud and the hard liners.

In appointing Gorge Mitchell as his special negotiating envoy, Obama has started out strong, for Mitchell more than anyone brought the two sides in Northern Ireland together in peace. After taking office, Obama sent a strong message to Israel that he means business--he called the Palestinians first. So the wind has shifted, and it is high time. See Zionism for some pertinent history.

Mitchell's hurdles are considerable and hawks here at home will make life miserable for negotiators. On the ground in Palestine, Hamas has the people's heart and soul. Hamas cannot be excluded. Mitchell is certainly well aware and Obama is such a fast study, he certainly is, too. Mitchell's success depends critically on dialogue. But dialogue is possible between the two sides. It even happened before. See "The Process."

The Process revisited will take time, years probably. If it can be done, it seems we have the team to do it. Aaron Miller, one of Bush's advisers on the Middle East, wrote in Newsweek:

"In the 25 years of working for six secretaries of state, I can't recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity--including confiscation, bypass roads, and housing demolition--does to the peacemaking process. There is a need to impose some accountability. And this can only come from the president. But Obama should make it clear that America will not lend its auspices to a peacemaking process in which actions of either side willfully undermine the chances of an agreement America is trying to broker. No process at all would be better than a dishonest one that hurts America's credibility."

This is reality talking. Hamas and Likud are long-standing mortal enemies. Complicating that is the divide between religious Hamas and secular Fatah. But at the end of the day, Israel and Palestine, each is the other's salvation. Mitchell may be the man of the hour. He will need to be for the fate of the Middle East is hanging in the balance.


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