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

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Consultants - OTE up to £35,000

£15000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent publishing and...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the Greeks can stay in the euro or end ‘austerity’, but not both

John Rentoul
The old 1,000 Greek drachma notes and current 20 euros  

Greece debt crisis: History shows 'new drachma' is nothing to fear

Sean O'Grady
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue