There was a seven hour meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Clinton. It closed with mutual declarations of commitment to a peace process, fuzzy definitions of what was agreed, and no assignment of blame for the impasse to one side or another.

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"Neither American nor Israeli officials offered details of the talks, although a blandly worded joint statement issued afterward made clear that there had been no breakthroughs. . . . There was no indication whether the United States had persuaded Israel to  compromise." 

Pick your metaphor.

Is this a case of the dog that did not bark, the preparation of a ladder to allow the protagonists to descend from a tree they climbed too high, or the fog in a corner of international relations where nothing or something is happening?

Those who like Sherlock Holmes'' concern with the dog that did not bark might note that the participants did not report that the meeting focused on what has been the prominent issue of a settlement freeze, or the planning of new apartments in Jerusalem.

News of the meeting was on the home page of the New York Times web site when I logged on, but under the heading of "More News," below stories about President Obama''s problems in international meetings about economics, refugee camps in Kenya, a power sharing agreement in Iraq, mental patients in China, fraud in Britain, a bombing in Karachi, and the movement of Ariel Sharon, comatose for more than four years, from a hospital to medical facilities at his ranch.

We have heard that President Obama is obsessed with his Middle East peace initiative. The prospect  excites activists who like the possibility, and those who worry about the prospect of American pressure. However, the image does not fit with the nature of the American presidency. Obsession about a policy goal is rare in that office, and likely to be costly. If Barack Obama is obsessed with peace in the Holy Land, we are fortunate that he is going about it in more moderately than his predecessor pursued his obsessions about Iraq. If claims of Obama''s thoughtfulness are true, we can hope that he will engage in reality testing before proceeding further.

Even the New York Times seems to be cooling its fires. Also on its home page early this morning (Israel time) were two articles about a West Bank blogger arrested by the Palestinians and looking at no less than life in prison for satirizing the Koran, and an article about Hizbollah''s assertion that it will resist any accusation that it was responsible for the assassination of Lebanon''s Prime Minister.

I could not find a mention in the New York Times about the near lynching of Jews who made a wrong turn into an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem, the stoning of ambulances that went into the same neighborhood on another occasion, or the stoning of cars on a road alongside the neighborhood. Nonetheless, those who produce and read the New York Times may be noticing that it is not only the Israeli side of Middle East controversies that must be taught what is proper.

No doubt something of interest was said by Americans or Israelis in that seven hour meeting. It will take the reading of numerous tea leaves to know what will happen as a result. And the people who pour the tea may contribute to the president''s problems in realizing his goals in this or any other issue. 

Seven hours will not be enough to deal with the gaps in culture and political interest that have been apparent since the British Foreign Secretary wrote that document about a Jewish homeland and the rights of others 93 years ago.
 

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