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Obama and Mideast peace: Time ripe to push again for breakthrough?

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Of course, Obama is not about to put his presidential prestige on the line if prospects for an accord are dim, and right now, neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian side seems eager to reach an agreement.

"It's quite conceivable that you could reach an agreement on some basic issues and fashion a framework agreement in nine months," Clawson says. But "the question is, are the two sides interested? That's something we don't really know."

Needed: a 'big bang' initiative?

The current standoff has led some to conclude that a "big bang" initiative or statement – for example, a declaration by Obama setting out the principles for a peace accord – will be necessary for any hope of progress this year.

After the collapse of the Obama-initiated direct talks, the United States reverted to its old approach of talking to each side, with special envoy George Mitchell visiting the region. The aim is to see if at some point the US might offer "bridging proposals" for bringing Israelis and Palestinians closer together, but few observers say this will be enough. The White House has convened a task force of outside experts who are to report to national security adviser Tom Donilon by the end of January or early in February with ideas for jump-starting the stalled negotiations.

In the meantime, one option gaining traction on the international stage calls for the world to simply recognize Palestine as a de facto state based on pre-1967 borders. Earlier this month, Chile joined several other Latin American countries and more than 100 other countries worldwide in recognizing Palestine as a state.

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