We have had worse days.The not so friendly United Nations published its Human Development Index, ranking Israel number 15 among 169 countries. Norway is number 1 and the United States number 4. Israel scores higher than such decent places as Finland, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Austria, and the United Kingdom. The index aggregates data pertaining to life expectancy, adults'' years of schooling, income, equality, savings and crime. We may also be heading into a calm period with respect to international pressure. The Economist describes several reasons why there may not be much movement on what had been the Obama initiative. It is generous in not putting all the blame on Israel. The New York Times headlines an article, "For Obama, Foreign Policy May Offer Avenues for Success." The theme is that he may use his considerable ability to shape foreign policy while being stymied in any effort to do anything dramatic at home. The article describes likely problems and opportunities with respect to Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Russia, China and Afghanistan. Palestine and Israel do not get a mention. Several of my internet friends have asked how I would improve things in the United States, or advance the prospect of peace with Palestinians.I prefer to focus on defining and explaining the present, rather than competing with political activists in promoting one or another course for the future. I have taught my students (several of whom have reached high positions in Israel, the United States and elsewhere) that social science can identify the current situation, and assess the reasons that explain why things are as they are. If aspiring policymakers want to know what to do, they must first know what is - and why. Then they can work within those parameters.It does not appear that the Obama administration was sufficiently aware of what exists in this part of the Middle East. It set back the peace process by raising the issue of a settlement freeze. It put Israelis on edge by demanding a freeze in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and provoked the Palestinians to insist on something they had not earlier raised as a condition for negotiations. It would be better to leave things alone than to continue blundering. The Palestinians have achieved credible results in the economic development of the West Bank, and in improving security for themselves and Israelis. Israel has cooperated by easing restrictions on the movement of Palestinians. Currently we are hung up on the Palestinians'' insistence on maintaining that item of freezing construction in the settlements that the Americans had inserted, and Israel''s insistence that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.It is not clear if these demands are no more than gamesmanship, or serious impediments to progress. On several occasions since 1993 (Oslo), I have hoped to celebrate with my Palestinian friends the establishment of a new state, perhaps with its border 100 meters from my apartment. I have also said on several occasions since 1993 that we should say Kaddish for the idea of a Palestinian state.A state would be good for us all, but I do not expect it to happen. I would assign responsibility to several parties. Most important are the fractures among Palestinians, and the inability of the moderates to resist the extremists. Thus, they continue to demand things that no Israeli government can accept, like a return of refugees from 1948, and borders close to the armistice lines going back to 1948 (what they call the 1967 borders of a Palestine that never existed).Also responsible are the Muslim states that urge extremism on the Palestinians, making it difficult for them to compromise with Israel. Currently the biggest problems are Iran and Syria. They are working with Hizbullah that is close to dominating Lebanon, and with Hamas, which is ruling Gaza and threatening to take over the West Bank.The settlements that Israel has constructed throughout the West Bank since 1967 also complicate things. Palestinians do not want them in their state. Even Israelis who would support accommodations are not inclined to remove them due to the violence that followed the withdrawal of settlements from Gaza. Another problem is Israeli distrust of Palestinian intentions, and uncertainty about the reliability of the American and European governments. We can argue if this is the fault of Israeli paranoia, or on the plate of Americans and Europeans who do not read our neighbors correctly. The United States and other western democracies have not helped in trying to manipulate Israel and Palestine, demanding speedy progress, when neither of the partners is comfortable with the process - or capable of doing what is necessary to produce an agreement. The danger of naive and clumsy outsiders is that they produce expectations that cannot be met. Americans responded at the polls, disappointed with the candidate they had chosen under the slogans of ''Change'', and ''Yes We Can''. Palestinians have shown over the years that they are not so gentle when incited to great aspirations not realized.My reading of the present, and my hope for the future is that Israelis and Palestinians can get through this period of Obama excitement without too many deaths, and with decent futures for us all.It would help if the American president recognizes his limitation here as well as at home. I can hope for presidential wisdom, without really expecting it.The differences among what the UN calls the "Very High Human Development countries are not great. Norway''s score is .938, the United States'' .902, and Israel''s .872. The lowest ranking among the 42 countries in the "Very High" group are Portugal, Poland, and Barbados - the latter with a score of .788. Zimbabwe is at the tail end of the "Low Human Development" countries (most of which are African), with a score of .14.