Israel's announcement of 1,600 new settlements in East Jerusalem more or less torpedoed Vice President Biden's visit. U.S. media are speculating on the Israeli government's motive, while Israeli papers are hotly debating the implications. In Israeli daily Haaretz, Carlo Strenger zooms out to situate the diplomatic fracas in the context of the peace process as a whole. He asks, "Are peace talks doomed to fail before they start?" He contrasts the fact that majorities of Israelis and Palestinians favor a two-state solution with the lack of progress toward peace.

His theory? Israel and Palestine are still struggling over their identities, and both sides have strong factions pushing incompatible theocratic aims:

Israel is in the throes of a battle about its identity. There are indeed large groups that want it to be something more resembling a theocracy than a democracy; there are other groups that go further than that ...

The same holds true for the Palestinians: large factions in Hamas want Palestine to be a theocracy governed by Sharia law; and Hamas, to this day, is not willing to accept Israel's existence. ...

There is a deep reason why these majorities cannot impose their will and move towards the two-state solution. Somehow, the theological unconscious of the Middle East keeps interfering; somehow the belief that there is one, divinely sanctioned, absolute truth about reality that is held by one of the monotheistic religions keeps popping up.
Yet Strenger doesn't think that means peace talks are "doomed." The key is to lose the naive notion that "a final status agreement and the end of the conflict are in sight, and just a matter of smart negotiating tactics." Instead, they have to accept more of a work-in-progress, a Palestinian state with "temporary borders" as both sides acclimate to "the reality of the two-state solution." Ultimately, Israel's "policy of dispossession," he argues, must be seen as being both "morally unacceptable and politically catastrophic." Israel's decline in standing, he says, "is of its own making"--as shown by the decision to announce the building projects "even as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Israel to jump start peace negotiations."