New US Secretary of State John Kerry threw down the gauntlet last week when he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday that time is running out for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said there was a "window" of at most two years during which this will be possible. "So there's an urgency to this in my mind," said Mr Kerry, "and I intend, on behalf of the president's instructions, to honour that urgency and see what we can do to move forward".
Mr Kerry's remarks were obviously well intentioned and meant to move the process forward, but they reflect a growing international pessimism that the situation is intractable, at least without major policy shifts on several fronts. Unfortunately it's not clear that any of the major players, including the administration in Washington which Mr Kerry represents, are willing to take this challenge, give Middle East peace the priority it deserves and make the tough decisions and sacrifices to make it a reality.
Negotiations have been stalled for some time because of the precondition placed by Palestinian President Amhmoud Abbas that Israel must first freeze the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories. Mr Abbas and Palestinians in general are understandably distressed at the Israeli building boom in territories they feel must be included within a Palestinian state. But as US President Barack Obama said during his visit to the region last month: "If the expectation is we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there's no point in the negotiations. My argument is even though both sides may have areas of strong disagreement, maybe engaging in activities that the other side thinks is a breach of good faith, we have to push through those things to try to get an agreement."