Pretty much every Secretary of State since the Truman administration has devoted considerable energy to brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians. None succeeded. In fact, the most recent and ambitious attempt—the Oslo Peace Accords—backfired badly. But there seems to be something about the Secretary of State’s job that forces its occupants to keep on undertaking this Sisyphean labor regardless of whether or not it makes sense.

And so now we have Condoleezza Rice regularly journeying to the Middle East to arrange another peace conference later this year. It is hard to know why she thinks the climate for a breakthrough is propitious now. Hamas, an organization devoted to Israel’s destruction, has taken control of the Gaza Strip, making it what the Israeli government rightly calls a “hostile entity.” Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority (or what remains of it), is an ineffectual figurehead. Syrian President Bashar Assad is working full-time to destroy Lebanese democracy and possibly to acquire nuclear arms. He has shown no interest in negotiating peace. Instead he is working hand in glove with Iran to support Hamas and Hizballah.

Meanwhile, Israel is led by an unpopular prime minister whose toughness has been questioned and who, unlike his immediate predecessor, lacks the credibility to give away land such as the Golan Heights in a bid for “peace.”

Amid such circumstances, it is hardly surprising to see this Washington Post headline recounting Rice’s most recent trip to the Holy Land: “Rice Visit Yields No Commitments On Mideast Talks; Differences Over Agenda Remain Wide.” The only mystery here is why the Secretary of State—an intelligent woman—insists on continuing to engage in such a hopeless endeavor.

Perhaps she has been told that this is what Arab states expect, that the U.S. should go through the motions even if the chances of success are scant. But aren’t there bigger issues than Israel to engage her attention? Perhaps she should be doing more to pressure American allies such as Germany to cut off economic ties with a regime in Iran that has threatened to wipe Israel off the map.

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