With the Arab world in turmoil from the Maghreb to the Gulf, few are paying much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict these days.

Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are experimenting with democracy and have new governments just feeling their way, and no one can be sure which way they will go. Syria is exploding in civil war, and while the Assad regime appears to be steadily weakening, it still has the most guns, tanks and planes.

And Russia is running interference for the Assad regime at the United Nations to block international intervention.

Nuclear negotiations with Iran are going nowhere, and Tehran increasingly appears to be using the talks simply to stall for time while it accelerates uranium enrichment.

Meanwhile, the regime is threatening to attack American bases, close the Straits of Hormuz and spread chaos and violence if faced with military action from its foes.

Against that background, no one is speaking seriously any longer about the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian standoff to establishing regional stability. President Barack Obama came to office with that view and crashed into a stone wall of reality. Barring a third intifada or dramatic escalation of violence, it is likely to remain on a back burner well into next year.

Marc Lynch, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said, “I see no prospect for movement on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking anytime in the near future or in the medium future.”

Low expectations got a brief bump up when Shaul Mofaz brought the Kadima party into the government with reviving peace negotiations with the Palestinians a top item on his agenda, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu never really showed much more than rhetorical interest in the subject, and it was dropped when Mofaz pulled out of the coalition 70 days later.

Netanyahu demonstrated his disinterest once again this week with his government’s announcement of plans to demolish eight Palestinian villages in order to give the IDF more space for training exercises.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked up the peace process in her recent meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders but all she got was pious promises to pursue peace, but no action, nor is any likely in the foreseeable future beyond a feckless effort by Palestinians to revive their bid for UN membership this fall, a dramatic gesture that will change nothing on the ground.

Real progress requires that both sides sit down with each other, and neither is seriously interested.

Before anyone can even talk about talking, much less negotiating, Israel and the Palestinians will have to restore enough confidence in each other to persuade them it is worth their while, Ambassador Dennis Ross, the veteran American peace envoy, told a Center for a New American Security forum last week. For now the top-down lack of trust is pervasive, and there is a growing belief on both sides that peace is never going to happen.

Ross proposed a 12-step plan to get Israelis and Palestinians back on the (peace) wagon and to begin to restore trust. Twelve steps sounds like an appropriate metaphor given both sides’ long-term intoxication with the blame game and the need to sober up about achieving a political settlement. But they’ve been drinking the nectar of complacency for so long that the status quo appears preferable.

Ross listed six steps for each side.

Israel

1. Provide compensation incentives for settlers to voluntarily begin leaving settlements.

2. Build housing for settlers who leave so they will know there is a place to go that they will want to live in.

3. Stop construction in areas that Israel is sure to leave; put the new housing in the major blocks Israel is expected to retain or inside the 1967 Green Line.

4. Open Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank now under full Israeli security control, to Palestinian economic activity currently barred. It will demonstrate Israel is serious about leaving.

5. Expand the Palestinian police presence in Area B, 22% of the territory, to include security responsibility and lower the Israeli profile.

6. In Area A, the 18% of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority has civil and security responsibility, minimize Israeli incursions to an absolute necessity.

Palestinians

1. Put Israel on your maps and in your textbooks, websites and government documents to demonstrate that you are serious about a two-state solution.

2. If you are so confident about your rights to the land, acknowledge there is also a historical Jewish connection to the land.

3. Stop celebrating everyone who kills an Israeli as a martyr if you want to show you are serious about coexistence.

4. Start conditioning your public for the difficult decisions and compromises they will have to take for peace; the more you treat yourself as a victim the more you perpetuate yourself as a victim.

5. Replace the refugee camps with permanent housing.

6. Build your infrastructure and institutions of your state; it is good for you and tells the Israelis what kind of state you want to have.

Before the two sides can resume negotiations they have to begin speaking seriously to their own people about their responsibilities and show, not simply tell, the other side that they are ready, able and willing to make peace.

Each side has lost faith in the other’s commitment to peace, and has a profound sense that it is right, Ross said. “It’s not a question of right or wrong. There are two rights.”

bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

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