Kerry Tries to Rescue Stalled Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

America’s secretary of state is doing his utmost to ensure that the negotiating process continues.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 8
Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 8 (State Department)

America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, has a lot on his plate, from the upcoming round of nuclear negotiations with Iran to the global effort in Syria to verify and destroy Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons. Yet on Wednesday, he added another item to his “to do” list — spending a full day traveling between Israel and the West Bank to resurrect a peace process that both parties believe is on the brink of collapsing.

After six months of persistent contact with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry achieved a breakthrough in the conflict that had eluded American officials the previous three years. That is, Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed to relaunch direct negotiations within a strict nine month timeframe. Given the enormous mistrust between Israel and the Palestinians over the core issues of the conflict, getting both men back to the negotiating table was a major obstacle. But by with sheer force of his personality, Kerry at least broke through that roadblock.

Three months into the talks, however, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the process is failing to produce any concrete results. Nor is it building the diplomatic momentum that is required to sustain the dialogue for another six months.

With the exception of a few dozen Palestinian prisoners being released from Israeli jails and a promise by Abbas that he will hold off from bringing claims against Israel to the United Nations, the parties remain as far apart as they have ever been.

This was made abundantly clear when Netanyahu, appearing alongside Kerry before their bilateral talks, pinned the blame entirely on the Palestinian delegation. “I see the Palestinians continuing with incitement,” he said, “continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid, run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace.”

The Palestinian delegation is equally upset about how the process has evolved so far, complaining that the United States are not being a forceful enough mediator. The Israelis, they argue, are undermining diplomacy by continuing to approve thousands of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land they have long claimed as part of a future Palestinian state. One official in the Palestine Liberation Organization went as far as saying that Israel’s current actions could lead the Palestinians to withdraw from the talks altogether. Abbas will be bringing that message to Kerry during their discussions in the West Bank, according to The New York Times.

Kerry has been trying his upmost to ensure that the process he started will continue into the future. Upon arriving in Israel, he visited the Tel Aviv square, where former Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin was assassinated eighteen years ago by a Jewish extremist who opposed his 1993 peace agreement with the Palestinians. He reminded Israelis and Palestinians about Rabin’s courage and desire to make peace. His message was clear: the current Israeli government needs to exhibit that same courage.

The big test is whether Abbas and Netanyahu can build on that legacy. Judging by the current impasse, it doesn’t appear likely.