Israel-Palestine pundits often seem to compete over who will be more skeptical, if not dismissive, of new diplomatic initiatives. Given past peace-making failures, they know that predictions of failure are their best bets.
Such was the reaction to Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. Experts, both in the region and worldwide, declared it dead even before it was born last summer, and often ridiculed Kerry for allegedly pursuing an unattainable objective, for allegedly being out of touch with domestic Israeli and Palestinian politics, or for allegedly overlooking other obstacles.
Yes, Kerry may have made some mistakes early on. And, sure, his initiative may collapse or fizzle. But Secretary Kerry and President Obama definitely deserve enormous respect for what they have managed to accomplish so far.
This week, as Kerry returns to Jerusalem and Ramallah, he is expected to present to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas a “framework” for resolving the conflict.
If you step back and look at what Kerry has so far accomplished, you will have to agree: This is a pretty big deal!
Almost six months into his effort to achieve a draft Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Kerry has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — one of the most intransigent leaders in Israel’s history — discussing the general outlines of an agreement that would resolve the toughest components of the conflict, such as the future of Jerusalem, the fate of the Palestinian refugees, and Israel’s future borders.
Kerry is laying out markers for Israeli and Palestinian leaders, signaling what the United States believes a future peace accord should look like, and how the security of both sides could be enhanced by a peace agreement.
Kerry is keeping both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the negotiating room even as the Israeli government continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and even as Israeli cabinet ministers intentionally create provocations to derail the talks. He’s keeping the negotiators in the room even as Palestinian leaders fail to condemn anti-Israeli violence, as Palestinian leaders publicly reject his plans, or as Palestinian negotiators announce their resignation. Negotiations continue because the secretary has made clear to both sides what the price would be for being depicted as responsible for the talks’ failure.
Kerry is gradually pushing both Netanyahu and Abbas toward a make- or-break “moment of truth,” a moment in which they would have to make the hard decisions that they have so far been avoiding.
Secretary Kerry is recruiting support from regional and world leaders to further increase the pressure on Netanyahu and Abbas to seriously engage in pursuit of peace.
And perhaps most importantly, Kerry is now presenting Israeli and Palestinian leaders with America’s guidelines — its vision — for resolving all of the so-called “final-status” issues.
By demanding that the parties not leak from the negotiating room, and by announcing that the only authorized details about the negotiations would come from him, Kerry has significantly diminished the ability of public criticism to derail the talks. Negotiations continue even after senior Israeli and Palestinian officials publicly blast what the US reportedly offered around the table. Kerry can brush off the criticism because no one has officially confirmed the validity of the subject of this criticism.
Kerry has now shown that even though he doesn’t have enthusiastic partners in Netanyahu and Abbas, he has the tenacity, the courage, the discipline, the thick skin, the staff, and the presidential backing to push the two harder and farther than most pundits predicted he would. And we are still almost four months away from the nine-month deadline that Obama and Kerry posed for the negotiations to produce a draft peace accord.
Kerry’s initiative, despite his tenacity and determination, may fail. But it now should be clear that it also may not. It has a chance. And that chance, small as it may be, makes supporting it imperative for anyone who cares about Israel’s future.
Kerry has gone farther than most had initially expected, possibly farther than past US secretaries of state. For that, he deserves respect and support, particularly now, as the diplomatic process reaches crunch time.