A resumption of negotiations
Peace has been an impossibility in the Middle East, but at least some old foes are talking again.
What major news outlets are describing as "the first substantive peace talks ... in years" between Israel and the Palestinians began Monday.
But establishing a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as history has shown, is borderline impossible.
For starters, the talks will focus establishing a framework for negotiations before the actual negotiations begin. Second, to get the Palestinians to the table, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to release 104 Palestinians from Israeli jails following their imprisonment for, among other things, firebombing a bus carrying children and killing civilians, police officers, border guards and soldiers.
Netanyahu made it clear that he dislikes the idea of releasing the prisoners but said that "from time to time, prime ministers are called on to make decisions that go against public opinion — when the matter is important to the country."
Peace in the Middle East is important to more than Israel; it's important to the world. Unfortunately, it has been an elusive goal.
It will be interesting to see if the Palestinians, in their effort to achieve peace, will abandon their oft-stated goal of destroying the nation of Israel and driving its people into the sea. For understandable reasons, that's always been the deal-breaker in the past.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been working with both sides in an effort to get them back to the table. Like his predecessors before him, Kerry realizes that negotiating a settlement between these bitter foes would be a historic achievement. Like his predecessors, Kerry also has to know that any chances of success are quite slim.
Still, it's an interesting time to get the Israelis and the Palestinians talking peace because almost every other Middle Eastern country is either in turmoil or on the brink of it.
The slaughter continues in Syria, where dissidents are trying to drive the ruthless Bashar Assad from power. In Egypt, the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi after he began to dismantle the fledgling democracy movement that led to his election as president. Street riots and indiscriminate killing have followed, and it's unclear when order will be restored.
Iran continues its feverish pursuit of a nuclear weapon, a project that has drawn threats of military action by both Israel and the United States.
Indeed, it would appear that the Middle East has never been more unstable than it is now. Even more concerning, American influence has been on the wane, to the point that this country almost qualifies for the role of bystander in the ongoing disputes in Egypt and Syria.
It is in the midst of that chaos that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will listen to each other outline their positions, and we'll leave it to others to guess whether the current environment makes it more or less likely to achieve positive results.
When it comes to the Middle East, the only realistic expectation is disappointment. Still, it's encouraging that the Israelis and Palestinians are talking. Whether it's leads to anything more than that will be determined by time and intervening events.