In the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Barack Obama will inherit a situation that has bedeviled American presidents for decades. It is not an enviable part of the job.
Indeed, that situation has been such a staple of international news that the current fighting in Gaza has a familiar, tired quality to it. For most Americans, photos and televised images of blown-up buildings and angry crowds of protesting Arabs could just as well be of fighting in Lebanon or the West Bank in years past.
It is an intractable, seemingly endless mess that has been going on for decades, and for many of us the overwhelming impulse is simply to turn the page or change the channel.
The president of the United States, however, does not have that option. Real people are dying, and American interests are at stake.
Israel is one of this country's closest allies, the Middle East's only true democracy and a nation with close ties to the American people. Beyond that, the passions excited by the Palestinian cause inflame much of the hostility toward the United States found in Islamic countries.
That such anger is unfairly directed takes nothing away from the importance any president must place on diffusing it. The plight of the Palestinians is almost exclusively the fault of three generations of inept, self-serving and corrupt leadership. Nonetheless, scenes of Israelis bombing Gaza or the West Bank - with American-made weapons - are taken as self-evident proof of U.S. complicity in a Zionist conspiracy in much of the Muslim world, amplified, of course, by the fact that much of that world is under the control of dictators and ideologues who censor the news and twist the facts to fit their own agendas.
What Obama can do is the question. And there, perhaps history offers a direction.
The Israelis, often with American support in the form of money and arms, have repeatedly crushed Arab military and paramilitary forces. In doing so, they have defended and preserved the state of Israel, and bought some sense of security. But they have not produced peace.
No one can expect the Israelis to sit idle while Hamas rains rockets down on their homes. No nation could tolerate that. But the fighting in Gaza will end, and at that point it should be remembered how the only thing like real peace the modern state of Israel has ever enjoyed came about.
In the 30 years since the Camp David Accords were signed, Egypt and Israel have coexisted, if not cordially, at least without fighting. That happened because, in Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, both countries had courageous leaders willing to take risks, and in part because the Egyptians, having been thoroughly beaten by the Israelis in 1973, had had enough. But it also happened because President Jimmy Carter recognized an opportunity and effectively used the power and prestige of his office to broker a deal.
There is no Sadat on the scene now, and maybe no Begin either. And no one can negotiate with the fanatics of Hamas. But perhaps Obama and Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton, both of whom excel at persuasion and negotiation, can identify leaders on both sides who understand that while the Palestinians can never beat the Israelis militarily, neither can the Israelis find peace through bombing.