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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor