In essence what Kerry is daring to test is a question everyone has wanted to avoid: Is the situation between Israelis and Palestinians at five minutes to midnight or five minutes after midnight, or even 1 a.m. (beyond diplomacy)?

That is, has Israel become so much more powerful than its neighbors that a symmetrical negotiation is impossible, especially when the Palestinians do not seem willing or able to mount another intifada that might force Israel to withdraw? Has the neighborhood around Israel become so much more unstable that any Israeli withdrawal from anywhere is unthinkable? Has the number of Israeli Jews now living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank become so much larger — more than 540,000 — that they are immovable? And has the Palestinian rhetoric on the right of return become so deeply embedded in Palestinian politics? So when you add them all up, it becomes a fantasy to expect any Israeli or Palestinian leader to have the strength to make the huge concessions needed for a two-state solution?

President Obama is letting Kerry test all this. Kerry has done so in a fanatically relentless — I’ve lost count of his visits here — but highly sophisticated way. After letting the two sides fruitlessly butt heads for six months, he’s now planning to present a U.S. framework that will lay out what Washington considers the core concessions Israelis and Palestinians need to make for a fair, lasting deal.