Slow progress: John Kerry’s efforts towards an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal are admirable. But he cannot neglect the broader context

Mr Kerry devotes the bulk of his energies to a problem whose solution has eluded his every predecessor

Share

For his persistence at least, John Kerry must be admired – but less so, perhaps, for his priorities. This week the Secretary of State wrapped up his 10th mission of Middle East diplomacy during his first year in charge of US foreign policy. Yet for all his efforts, there is little outward evidence of real progress towards a deal between Israelis and Palestinians, beyond that familiar stand-by, honed by six decades of failed peace making, that at least the two sides are talking.

That may be true. But amid the current turmoil that grips the region, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute now feels like a sideshow, conditioned by more momentous issues playing out all around it. These include the tragic souring of the Arab Spring; Iran’s nuclear programme, which Israel regards as a far greater danger to its security than unending conflict with the Palestinians; and, above all, the horrific civil war in neighbouring Syria, where the conflict now threatens to merge with the unrest in Iraq and spark a generalised Sunni/Shia conflagration – one where Washington now acknowledges that Iran may have a role to play.

Yet Mr Kerry devotes the bulk of his energies to a problem whose solution has eluded his every predecessor, even when, as in Bill Clinton’s attempt in 2000, US mediation was led by the President himself. This time, President Obama – bruised by his first-term failure to restart negotiations – has conspicuously stayed out of the fray. But without direct and sustained involvement at the very highest level, no deal is likely.

Mr Kerry seems to believe that by forcing the two sides to keep at it a solution can emerge. His goal is a “framework” agreement, to be achieved by April, setting out the parameters of a two-state solution. Armed with this common vision, Israelis and Palestinians will then be able to work out the details. But it is unclear how this formulation differs in practice from the interim agreements, road maps and other concoctions of diplo-speak that have cloaked 60-plus years of stalemate.

The broad outlines of any settlement have long been obvious. A two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, but with land swaps to acknowledge the realities of major existing Israeli settlements; and a shared Jerusalem, with only the tiniest symbolic right of return for Palestinian refugees. In the Middle East peace process, however, where disagreement on a specific can be so easily used to derail talks in their entirety, the devil lies in every detail.

It is no different now. Some see the secrecy which surrounds the substance of the talks as positive, a proof that the two sides are negotiating in earnest. But there still has been no meeting between the two leaders, Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader has a coalition to preserve, while deep divisions remain between Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions. Israeli settlement-building meanwhile continues. Indeed, the suspicion is strong that Israel is talking not so much with the intention of reaching a deal, but of silencing foreign criticism.

Mr Kerry toils on. But it is hard to avoid the feeling that we are watching the indomitable pursing the unreachable – and that his admirable energy might be more urgently channelled elsewhere.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MIDDLE EAST CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...

BALTIC CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy London base...

IT Systems Administrator

£25000 - £35000 per annum + bonus + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: IT Sy...

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: what if Hillary sticks, drowning sorrows and open sesame

John Rentoul
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor