Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to begin direct peace talks, providing a small but promising first step in President Barack Obama's U.S.-hosted peace efforts. Israel-Palestine peace, which has eluded countless world leaders and seven U.S. presidents, faces several daunting challenges, chief among them the controversial and ongoing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The U.S. State Department will host today's direct talks. What can Netanyahu and Abbas accomplish?

  • All Comes Down to Netanyahu The New York Times' Ethan Bronner asks, "Will the Israeli leader who built a career opposing a Palestinian state be the one to help bring it into being? In some fashion, that is Mr. Netanyahu's own claim -- that only someone like himself, with hawkish credentials, can and will produce lasting peace because only such a leader can bring his people with him. ... But it may also be, as critics on the left maintain, that Mr. Netanyahu is focused assiduously on projecting an image of peacemaker in order to keep the Obama administration on his side for the issue he cares about most -- combating Iran."
  • Netanyahu's Impossible Choice on Settlements The Washington Times' Eli Lake reports, "The chairman of Israel's largest settler organization in the disputed territory of the West Bank on Wednesday predicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government will collapse if he renews a moratorium on construction inside the settlements as part of the first direct Arab-Israeli peace talks since 2008." However, "Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to leave Thursday's direct negotiations if Mr. Netanyahu does not renew the West Bank building freeze set to expire Sept. 26."
  • Promising Sign in Response to Recent Violence The New York Times' Helene Cooper and Mark Landler write, "While the issues are daunting, some analysts also saw a reed of hope in the resolute response of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas to the killing by Hamas gunmen of four Israeli settlers in the West Bank on the eve of the talks. Both men immediately said the attack should not be allowed to derail the negotiations, and the Palestinian Authority condemned the killings. 'Normally, it's been reliably easy to torpedo, or veto, any progress between Israelis and Palestinians,' said Ziad J. Asali, the president of the American Task Force on Palestine. 'This means an incredible loss of a weapon.'"
  • Little Reason for Hope The Daily Beast's Reza Aslan sighs, "It is difficult to find anyone who has much good to say about President Obama's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis so far. The pro-Israel camp faults him for focusing too narrowly on the settlements issue. The pro-Palestine camp criticizes him for backing down on his pledge to be tough with Netanyahu. Neither side has confidence in his ability to broker a deal at all, let alone in a year. ... I recognize that those of us in the media who want peace for Israel and dignity for Palestine are supposed to gush enthusiasm and feign optimism every time a U.S. president gathers the Israeli and Palestinian leaders together in the same room. The situation in the region has become so desperate that we have no choice but to put away our skepticism and confidently declare that 'this time things are different... this time there's hope'. ... But it's hard to be optimistic when we have been using the same playbook for decades and have not come one inch closer to a peaceful resolution to the conflict."
  • Doomed Peace Talks Will Make Things Worse Bloomberg's Yossi Beilin warns, "Peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which are due to begin tomorrow in Washington, won't succeed in finding a permanent solution to the conflict. Such talks, sponsored by U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, aren't just another attempt whose failure would have no consequences. If the negotiations fail, it will lead to more frustration and deeper skepticism that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved. The security arrangement between the two sides, which is guaranteeing the current state of calm, will be dealt a blow and there will be a danger of violent outbursts."