After Peace-Process Stumble, Is John Kerry Wasting His Time in the Middle East?

The Secretary of State comes up short for now, but that doesn't mean he's failed.

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Mandel Ngan / Pool / REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looks out of a helicopter window at Zaatari refugee camp while flying to the camp near the Jordanian-Syrian border on July 18, 2013

Today was supposed to be a breakthrough day for John Kerry’s effort to kick-start the long-stalled Middle East peace process. By some reports Thursday the U.S. Secretary of State was on the cusp of announcing a new round of peace talks, refuting skeptics who called his weeks of shuttle diplomacy a waste of time. It didn’t happen. Later in the day came word that Palestinian officials have balked and are demanding clearer assurances from Israel before they’ll sit down to talk. Now Kerry is rushing to the West Bank for hastily scheduled talks with the Palestinians to salvage his project. (Update: On Friday afternoon, Washington time, Kerry announced that his Friday meetings had “established a basis” for a resumption of talks.)

To some, it’s just another story of Lucy and the football in the Holy Land, where nothing will ever change and where Kerry is wasting time he could be spending on more malleable issues, from Egypt to Asia. But some close observers of the peace process say that a breakthrough is still likely — and that even if it isn’t, Kerry is wise to resuscitate the Arab-Israeli issue, which not long ago was pronounced dead in many quarters.

“I think the media has been lowballing Kerry’s chances” at success, says David Makovsky, a peace-process expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I think this is going to happen, where they get to the table” for talks.

(PHOTOS: Secretary of State John Kerry’s First Overseas Trip)

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Kerry had been bullish, if not quite boastful, about the progress he’s made over his six trips to the region since he replaced Hillary Clinton in January. “When this process started several months ago, there were very wide gaps … between the two sides,” he said, adding: “We have been able to narrow those gaps very significantly.”

“I would caution everybody to resist the temptation to speculate about where things stand or what is possible,” Kerry continued. “The easiest bet among Middle East prognosticators has always been on predicting impasse. That’s always been the easiest bet, and I understand that.”

There are some fresh reasons to bet against impasse. This week the Arab League endorsed Kerry’s terms for peace talks. Egypt has replaced its pro-Hamas President with a military regime that favors the more moderate Mahmoud Abbas. A new E.U. resolution barring the funding of projects in Israeli settlements has increased pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently saw conservative allies opposed to peace talks weakened. For their part, the Palestinians are eager to assure the delivery of a $4 billion public-private economic support package Kerry unveiled in May.

(MORE: Myths and the Middle East)

Talks themselves don’t mean much, of course. And some informed observers remain skeptical about the prospects for a peace deal. “On a fundamental level I don’t think the parties [in the region] are in a much different position than they were three or four years ago. It’s a mess over there,” says Jonathan Prince, who served as an adviser to Obama’s former Middle East envoy, George Mitchell. “It’s the same leadership with the same lack of courage and the same obsession with parochial concerns.”

But, Prince argues, Kerry’s effort is hardly misplaced even if its odds are long: “Engagement has benefits all its own that are divorced from the prospects of success. When the hope of a diplomatic resolution decreases, the search for alternative resolutions — meaning violence — increases.”

It appears that Kerry may be acting on that principle. “It seems what the Secretary is trying to do is make progress by inches rather than yards,” says former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. Kerry is “forcing a conversation that could easily be sidelined by other, more urgent challenges. He’s making sure this issue is still in play.”

Makovsky thinks that talks are still likely to commence. But, he adds, “then it’s a question of whether Kerry gets success at the table.” That’s the real question. For now, however, Kerry will be happy to get the talking started.

PHOTOS: President Obama’s First Official Trip to Israel

37 comments
ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

He is not only wasting his time, he is wasting peoples time. Nobody takes him seriously. Putin kept him waiting three hours, the Syrian opposition representatives cancelled out at the last minute and just like his boss the Ditherer in Chief, many people look at them as a joke. Gone are the days when America is considered a serious player at the world stage. This leading from behind sure work wonders.

MrObvious
MrObvious

This is a case where no Secretary of State including Kerry can do much. 

Fletchsbu
Fletchsbu

Love the headline!

The ugly truth is, pretty much ANY SecState, Democrat or Republican, past, future or presnt, is wasting his or her time in the Middle East. 

You can't rescue a people who don't want to be rescued (or even don't think they need it).

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

too bad he's not a republican. then, the article could be all about how he was wasting time and tax-payer dollars and he could be crucified. double standard.

mrwolf
mrwolf

stating that neither side wants peace is ignorant and non-informed. Israelis want peace, yet claim the entire territory as Israel's homeland (including all of the land that was marked by the UN in 1948 as reserved for the Palestinians), while the Palestinians rightfully insist to finally have their state, staked out by the 'green line'. So, peace is not possible unless Israel, with no right to the Palestinian land other their claim that it was God given, historically theirs or whatever other nonsense they come up with, get real and finally stop the occupation. Palestinians will also have to gve up the idea of moving back into their villages within Israel. What else is there to negotiate? Also, for most of the last 2,000 years, Jews, Christians and later Moslems have lived there side by side, contrary to the what so many (with no knowledge of ME history) seem to belive.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

There is no backing up for the Zionist agenda. This is a fact. If this include shaming every Secretary of State sent by the Big Daddy, so be it. They don't care. They have spied on the USA, they have killed innocents Marines, innocent youth American activists. So what, the Zionists in Washington are going to keep on supporting this rogue state. Big Daddy and the Zionists in Washington always find the most stupid excuses to justify all the criminal activities of this rogue state created by the Big Daddy and the British puppets.

The UN repeatedly has condemned the vicious attacks on the International law by the state of Israel, What has Big Daddy done over and over again? Veto every one of them. This means for the Zionist state a free hand to do what they please, even shaming the secretaries of state of every administration since the creation of this rogue state. That's all.

GerardShepherdson
GerardShepherdson

ANY PEACE INITIATIVE IS A FUTURE INVESTMENT INTO THE GLORIOUS FUTURE OF A BRIGHT TOMORROW!  

hivemaster
hivemaster

Anyone going to the Middle East and attempting to broker peace is wasting their time.  Neither side wants peace, which would require living together, they just want the other side to disappear.

phalls1
phalls1

The US has been wasting time and especially money in the middle east for many years. It's well past time to STOP.

harte.ryan
harte.ryan

Kerry is wasting his time, Bibi has no plans for peace. Once his pet project "Iron Dome" is up and running he can expand settlements with impunity.

fitty_three
fitty_three

It's always a remix of the same thing:

Try to sell the Palestinians peace on Israel's terms.

But no matter how they package it and dangle money and prisoners (I call 'em hostages) as bait, the PA, at least in this regard, is too smart to take it.

Let Netanyahoo keep going the way he's going: It will be buh-bye Jewish state: They will have to live side by side with Arabs, as equal citizens, not the apartheid system they currently have within their own country.

But hells bells, Netanyahoo isn't real smart anyway.  He's fine with the status quo and was never really interested in peace, anyway.

sacredh
sacredh

“On a fundamental level I don’t think the parties [in the region] are in a much different position than they were three or four years ago. It’s a mess over there,”

Or 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 or 50...... 

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@MrObvious It is an exercise in futility. Do not know how much the Horsey Faced One promised both the Israelites and Palestinians to keep up for appearance sake that he is working. Or wont be surprise if he is caught again AWOL in his job at his yacht.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@MrObvious Wow, but the American Congress keep on sending the Israeli government 6 free billion taxpayer dollars a year. The Israeli laugh at your Secretaries of State and at the American People. Do you know why? Because the Congress is Zionist. That's all.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@Fletchsbu What are you implying? To be rescued from what?  Have you read what is the gist of the whole thing? If you haven't, then inform yourself and then give an opinion. It is not about rescuing anybody, it is about imposing international law. Accords done in the past have not been taken, even if this means debasing the already debased Palestinian entity. The Zionist agenda demands the whole of Palestine, They didn't get it  when they were created by the superpowers, so now they are going to get it going against the whole world. That's why they conquered the American Congress.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@cjh2nd You are so naïve. It is not about Reps or Dems. It's about the taking over of the Congress of the USA by the Zionists. This is a fact. You talk about pointing out the wasting of tax payer dollars if the Secretary of State were a Rep. Well, mr cjh2nd, What about the annual 6 free billion taxpayers dollars sent to Israel? Why? There is no money for some American in distress, but yes, there is free money to send to a rogue state. Can you explain?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@cjh2nd Too bad he isn't a republican. That way we could have invaded Syria and really stirred up the region.

Seethetruth
Seethetruth

@fitty_three You have no clue.  the only apartheid is in the muslim/arab world...non-arabs/non muslim (or not even the right Muslim) have no rights and targeted for constant oppression and murder.

In Israel, arabs and muslims are full citizens with full rights.  They are serve in business, in police, government as minsters, cabinet members, generals, head of the supreme court.

Bibi is not stupid by any measure, and was top of his class at MIT, and was a leader in changing the Israel economy from failure to one of best in world. Unlike Abbas whose PhD was that the Holocaust never happened and was the financial planner for the 1972 Munich Massacre

More than anyone BibI want peace and two states and see a strong vibrant Palestinan economy, as that is the best way to ensure a durable peace for Israel--but there is no one on the other side.  

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@ViableOp What a bunch of crap. The real protection is to have the countries of the world through the UN by your side. But when you break any international law to fulfil your illegal agenda, no country, except the bullies that gave them the Palestinian territories, will support Israel.

Seethetruth
Seethetruth

@ViableOp Why does Israel have to spend so much on defense?  Look at its neighborhood...everyone wants to kill each other with the only thing they agree on is that they should first kill the Jews.  Israel needed Iron Dome because the Hamas/Hezbollah think nothing of the war crime of targeting civilians with missles and rockets. >15,000 in the last 10 years.  All of this is resources pulled away from one of the best technology/life sciences development centers in the world (intel, cicso, microsoft, google, apple,...all depend on israel for critical development)

Seethetruth
Seethetruth

@ViableOp You have it backwards....Israel looks around it has less and less reason to trust Palestininas and its neighbors...all of them are collapsing and formal and informal peace treatises (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza)...are worthless paper despite Israel having given up land and defense.  Abbas has no real  authority or power to make and keep any treaty, and worse yet he and his government engage in endless calls and indoctrination of his people that they will wipe out the Jews from Jordan to the Sea that any treaty is only a step in taking everything.  

When Kerry and EU and others constantly beat on israel and ask NOTHING of Palestinas-even to recognize israels right to be in peace for have freedom of religion--it destroys any path to peace.  They simple take the demands on Israel as a starting point.


sacredh
sacredh

God forbid that peace ever breaks out. It could seriously damage the Israeli economy.

UMMLocal12
UMMLocal12

Things have changed in very important ways.  While the fact of conflict remains, the nature of the conflict has changed, arguably for a less bad condition.  At one time we saw national armies facing off, with the possibility of resulting US/Soviet Union participation.  Now we see the Israelis practicing agression by housing development , Palestinians are engaged in organized political action and some crime/terror with Arab national forces not involved in a significant manner.  There is no credible possibility of

The current situation is nasty and frequently fatal for some people. especially Palestinian people, but it is arguably better than it has been in the past.  This is partially due to a US (and sometimes European) policy of engagement and large amounts of money paid to the 2 largest antagonists, Israel and Egypt.  As frustrating and inconclusive as these efforts are, there is no reason to give up or to stop trying.

PeteMpls
PeteMpls

@sacredh it sure feels like it, doesn't it? I'm 52 years old, and it just feels like it will never change.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@Seethetruth @ViableOp Haha... Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Google, and Apple certainly do not "depend" on Israel for technology. Who are you trying to kid?

Seethetruth
Seethetruth

@UMMLocal12 Peace could be easy: the West needs to make it clear to arabs that terror or any action other than pursuit of peace and negotiations and respect of all will not be accepted.  terror will not be rewarded with acceptance, recognition and aid.  If the muslims/arabs want acceptance and support they need to renounce  and cease in their media in their schools the hate of non-muslims that is endemic in their culture.  That should be a primary condition of any support.  Only in this way will peace become a possibility...this issue is not land but hatred of non-muslims


sacredh
sacredh

@UMMLocal12, I agree that there is no reason to stop trying. There's always the remote possibility of a breakthrough and a slim chance is better than none. 

sacredh
sacredh

The animosity between the people involved goes back hundreds if not thousands of years. I don't see any possible way to think that peace in the middle east is either possible or feasible.

UMMLocal12
UMMLocal12

I do not have any hope at all for a breakthrough.  More likely small incremental improvement gained at enormous cost.  And worth it, especially if you are one of the locals who see some improvement.

cent-fan
cent-fan

@sacredh What the Middle East needs is a good old fashioned land rush like in a John Ford movie or Heaven's Gate.  Just line up everybody at one end in their Conestoga wagons and tell them to grab the land they want the most, 2 bucks an acre... or two bullets an acre as the case may be.

They can fight over the sand trap until the sun goes nova.