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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + TBA: Randstad Education Reading: Geography Teacher neede...

***Sports Graduate***

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: This role has arisen due to inc...

Business StudiesTeacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Bu...

***Are you a Support Worker? or a Youth Worker? ***

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The RoleDue to demand we are cu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Scientists believe the discovery could lead to new treatments for loss of memory function caused by ageing and other factors  

We need a completely new approach to caring for older people

Carol Jagger
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past