Progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to be painfully incremental. But marginal progress is better than none at all, which is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement Sunday that he is willing to accept a Palestinian state is a welcome development - even if it doesn't go nearly far enough.
With Mr. Netanyahu's speech, a milestone has been reached. From this day forward, there can no longer be any serious debate about whether a Palestinian state will (or should) come into existence.
The significance of this fact ought not to be minimized. It is easy to forget that just 13 years ago, the platform of the Labor Party - the main party of the left in Israel - rejected the concept of an independent Palestinian state. Now the standard bearer of the conservative Likud Party has bowed to that inevitability.
Much of the credit for Mr. Netanyahu's reversal on this issue goes to President Barack Obama, whose willingness to criticize Israeli policies seems to have forced Mr. Netanyahu's hand. Indeed, the prime minister's speech was considered a response of sorts to Mr. Obama's address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4.
The conversation now shifts from whether a Palestinian state will emerge to how it will happen and what it will look like. This, certainly, is the more difficult terrain to navigate, and the thorniest questions are the ones that have not changed in a quarter-century: the problem of Israeli settlements; the status of Jerusalem; the borders of a new state; whether the Palestinians will enjoy full sovereignty; and what to do about refugees.
On these specifics and others, Mr. Netanyahu's overture fell far short. He rejected Mr. Obama's oft-repeated demand to freeze the growth of settlements, he foreclosed on the possibility of a shared claim to Jerusalem, and he insisted that any Palestinian state would be "demilitarized." Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and one of his people's most thoughtful reformers, correctly noted that Mr. Netanyahu was "clearly deciding the most important issues while claiming he's open to negotiations."
It should be acknowledged that Mr. Netanyahu is in a difficult situation politically. Accepting the notion of a Palestinian state when Hamas, which rules Gaza, does not yet accept Israel's right to exist will be seen by many of his right-wing supporters as a bridge too far. And removing West Bank settlements would pose a real risk of violent resistance among the more extreme elements of those outposts.
Those are just some of the reasons that the conflict will not be settled on Mr. Netanyahu's watch. Untangling this Gordian knot of righteousness and resentment will not happen until the Israelis and Palestinians find leaders with the courage to take deeply unpopular positions - and the persuasive power to help their people put aside fear and ancient enmity for the sake of the future.
Unfortunately, for now, such leadership is nowhere to be seen on either side.