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Can the Senate's negotiating style save the day?

Two sets of secret talks seeking a 'grand bargain' – between Israelis and Palestinians and between Obama and the GOP on fiscal issues – involve current and former US senators. Can that chamber's style bring solutions?

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Secretary of State John Kerry, left, is seated with Israel's Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, second right, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, right, and Yitzhak Molcho, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an Iftar dinner, which celebrates the Muslim Ramadan, at the State Department in Washington, marking the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks July 29.

AP Photo

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In recent days, two different sets of secret talks have been under way in Washington. Each is aimed at achieving a “grand bargain” between hardened opponents. Both are given little chance of success. Both involve either current senators or former ones. And, most important, the negotiations will succeed only if each side admits that the other’s “core interests” are worthy of consideration.

The more secret of the talks are those focused on avoiding a fiscal crisis if Congress does not raise the federal debt limit this fall. President Obama (a former senator) has tasked his chief of staff to negotiate with a group of Republican senators in hopes of finding a consensus on spending cuts and raising tax revenue.

The other negotiations are between Israeli and Palestinian officials. They were doggedly arranged by Mr. Obama’s secretary of State, John Kerry – a former senator. He traveled to the Middle East six times in just six months – far more than his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton (a former senator). On Monday evening, he welcomed the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators for a casual dinner. Formal talks continued into Tuesday at the State Department.

For those talks, Mr. Kerry was able to achieve some concessions before they began. Israel released about 100 Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dropped a key condition for the talks (suspending expansion of Jewish settlements). In the fiscal talks, by contrast, there is reportedly only a minor consensus so far – easy reforms of Social Security.

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