U.S. sponsored peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are under way again after a two-year hiatus. On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. administration wants an agreement within a year. Many Mideast analysts are skeptical, though, about the chances of success.
After their direct talks in Washington on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas agreed to hold another round of meetings later this month. Their long-term aim is to produce a framework for a permanent peace deal.
The prospects for peace as a result of this new U.S. initiative were intensely debated at a meeting in Washington of the American Political Science Association.
Anne Marie Slaughter, the director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department, said "I think we've got a good shot."
Slaughter is the former dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She says there are good reasons why President Barack Obama's effort might succeed where previous administrations have failed.
"This president made his commitment clear from day one. He didn't wait until the last year of his administration. He knew it would take patience and time. It has. But this is an important step forward after 18 months, recognizing that the groundwork has to be prepared, we have to be patient, but we also have to believe that an agreement is possible," she said.
But optimism was a minority view here. "I think the peace process is basically a charade," said John Mearsheimer, co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago.
Mearsheimer is a well-known critic of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. He says its efforts will make it impossible for the president to pressure Mr. Netanyahu into making concessions.
"I think that a good case could be made that Barack Obama is making a significant political mistake in pursuing these negotiations because they're bound to fail and when they fail he's going to have egg all over his face," he said.
Mearsheimer says Mr. Abbas is weak and unable to bring Hamas to the negotiating table. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. Its armed wing claimed responsibility for attacks that killed Jewish settlers in the West Bank earlier this week.
Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania says conditions are less favorable for an agreement now than they were during previous peace attempts.
"However, one of the advantages of this particular episode is that we'll know very quickly whether there's any reason for hope," he said.
He says that's because Mr. Netanyahu will have to decide whether to extend his moratorium on construction of settlements when it expires later this month.
Lustick, who has studied the settler movement in Israel, says that previous failed talks have at least taught both Israelis and Palestinians what is needed to make peace.
"Everybody on each side knows what the price is," he said. "It's not like either side is not sure what the price is. Each side knows almost exactly what would be necessary for a viable two-state solution'"
There have been successful peace talks, namely with Egypt and Jordan. But analysts note that by comparison the concessions required from Israel were mild.
Michael Desch, who chairs the Political Science Department at the University of Notre Dame, says it will be a lot harder for Israel to give up even part of the West Bank, which many Israelis refer to by the ancient names Judea and Samaria.
"Judea and Samaria are different. There are larger numbers of settlers involved. And this is really the heart of the biblical land of Israel," he said.
But even if Israel does what the Palestinian leadership demands and completely stops building settlements, Hamas still has the power to destroy the whole peace process. Its armed wing says 13 militant groups are now joining forces to launch more attacks against Israel, including possible suicide bombings.