The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for Kerry's Peace Talks

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It wasn’t long before the Israelis and Palestinians rained all over the State Department’s parade. Following the weekend’s welcome news that peace talks may resume, the two sides spent yesterday “play[ing] down…the prospects of their envoys meeting in Washington any time soon”, says Reuters:

Palestinians said negotiations could not begin unless it was clear in advance that they would be about a future state based on pre-1967 borders, while an Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would seek the approval of his cabinet before going ahead. […]

The talks would be aimed at resuming negotiations stalled since 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building on land Palestinians seek for a state.

But an Israeli official said “it looks like negotiations will begin only next week, not this week.

As we’ve said, the impulse among many is to scoff at Secretary Kerry’s accomplishments as paltry and his setbacks as predictable. But the Secretary is not engaged in an entirely vain endeavor: concessions and consensus, however small, can contribute to improvement for both peoples, if only at the margins. In any case, with Egypt and Syria ablaze, the last thing the US needs is a Palestinian government feeling neglected, frustrated and forgotten.

From the outside, at least, it seems that Secretary Kerry has demonstrated skill in rebuilding some trust in the US from both sides, and that he has made it clear that even as the world tugs at America from myriad directions, the hopes and concerns of Israelis and Palestinians still matter to this country. His has been rhetoric backed by serious effort, and we applaud him for it.

That said, we remain about as far from a final peace now as we’ve ever been. As long as the administration sees the conflict as a tertiary issue in the Middle East, from which we can hope to extract minor albeit important progress, we’ll be ok. If it remains the focus of US diplomacy to the exclusion of other, more important concerns, US policy in the region will wind up looking worse than it already does.

[Photo courtesy Getty Images.]

Published on July 23, 2013 5:10 pm
  • wigwag
  • Parker O’Brien

    Perhaps Mr. Mead isn’t being cynical enough. If, as many believe, the Obama administration sees Israel as the cause of the lion’s share of problems in the Middle East, this is the perfect time for such a pivot towards a seemingly irrelevant policy play. With Syria burning, Jordan on the brink, and Egypt in outright upheaval, Israel surrounded by a sea of turbulence. Since Israel faces a hostile region with potentially very hostile states on its boarders, there has never been a better time to gain leverage from US military support in return for Israeli concessions.

    • Andrew Allison

      With respect, I think you may be misreading the situation. A nuclear power beleaguered doesn’t need US support. Might I suggest that the rationale for US support is to prevent Israel from unsheathing its sword.

      • Parker O’Brien

        I think your position is wrongheaded for a number of reasons. First off your rationale is absurd, Israel has never been an aggressor in any of its conflicts, nor ever threatened to use nuclear weapons on its neighbors. Second any use of those weapons would necessarily be after the military had fallen, implying massive human casualties, including civilians. Further, the use would be a pyrrhic victory, as it would inflame the anger of all other Muslim countries, along with other international detractors, and only lessen the odds for the survival of the state of Israel. Finally, this deterrent will soon be ineffective if Iran continues its pace towards nuclear capabilities, which would only increase the odds of an eventual war.

        • Andrew Allison

          If and when, as the Israeli government has made clear, it decides that the country’s security is at stake, it will unsheathe its sword.

          As an aside, I don’t think that “absurd” would be acceptable at the GM’s dinner table.

          • Parker O’Brien

            Preventative strikes are equitable to an ‘unsheathed sword’? If so the US has no moral standing to disavow such relatively restrained tactics from its allies.

  • BobSykes

    The Arab leadership needs confrontation to survive (literally) and doesn’t want peace. They must either destroy Israel and kill the Jews or they themselves must die (literally). Arafat was given everything he wanted at Camp David, but accepting it would have lead to he overthrow and death. Likewise, Abas cannot negotiate a peace for the same reason.