Commentary

Region Skeptical of Kerry's Shuttle Diplomacy

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

John Kerry has just ended an intense three day trip to the Middle East, having shuttled back-and-forth between the Palestinians and the Israelis in an effort to rekindle the two-state solution. Despite Secretary of State Kerry’s optimistic characterization of the meetings, the overwhelming response in the region has been that of weary skepticism. Israelis, on the whole, support resuming the peace talks, but are not convinced they will be fruitful. Some in Israel are also adamant that negotiations begin without preconditions — which means no settlement freeze. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are unconvinced by the attitude of the Israeli government and question Washington’s commitment to the resolution of the conflict.

According to a recent poll reported by the AFP, “A majority of Israelis support resuming peace talks with the Palestinians…. The poll in daily Israel Hayom said 56.9 percent believed negotiations should resume, against 28.6 percent who thought they should not. But there was skepticism over whether talks would achieve anything, with 55.4 percent saying it was not ‘possible to reach a permanent status arrangement.’”

But the mood among some in the Israeli right goes beyond that of skepticism. Some, including Jerusalem Post’s David Weinberg, strenuously disagree with the resumption of the peace talks: “One gets the sense that Netanyahu is desperate for diplomatic movement; that he has bought into the left-wing argument that the ‘status quo is unsustainable’; and that he is preparing to launch a unilateral Israeli initiative to concede significant parts of Judea and Samaria. There is certainly a tremendous amount of international pressure on Netanyahu to do so....Netanyahu should resist the temptation to buy fleeting international approval and purchase short-term domestic political gain by sacrificing the country’s long-term strategic needs and most fundamental diplomatic principles.”

In an article for the Yedioth Ahronoth, Dan Calic also presents the argument that negotiations are futile because the Palestinians are not earnest in their desire to live in peace with the state of Israel: “The time has come to reveal the Palestinians' true colors. While world leaders attempt to cajole and nudge the two sides into negotiations, only one side consistently says it is ready to sit face to face without preconditions — Israel. The Palestinians, on the other hand, refuse to meet unless Israel agrees in advance to several demands. This should be a red flag indicator of their disingenuous intentions....The Palestinians do not wish to see a Jewish state of Israel as their neighbor. In fact, if they had their way Israel would cease to exist altogether in favor of one Arab state of Palestine covering all the land Israel sits upon.”

The Palestinians seem to share the same skepticism for Mr. Kerry’s diplomacy, albeit for different reasons. Maan News reports that Hamas has made it clear it does not approve of the talks and has urged Fatah and the PA to resume national unity talks: “The Hamas movement said Saturday that peace negotiations with Israel were 'futile', as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry extended his shuttle diplomacy between Israeli and Palestinian leaders for a third day. The Islamist movement warned Fatah and the Palestinian Authority against the ‘mirage’ of negotiations, and called on the PA to reject pressure from the United States to accept economic initiatives and instead focus on implementing national unity between Palestinian factions.”

Writing for the Palestinian newsite Amin, Uri Avnery suggests that the only way Mr. Kerry’s efforts will have any chance to succeed is if those efforts are strongly and publicly backed up by the White House: “It is about half an hour's car ride between the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem and the Palestinian President’s Mukata’ah in Ramallah. But the two are more distant from each other than the Earth and Mars. Kerry has taken it upon himself to bring the two together — perhaps somewhere in outer space. On the moon, for example. Together for what? Ah, there’s the rub. The idea seems to be a meeting for meeting’s sake....The only chance to start real negotiations is for Barack Obama to put his full weight behind the effort, to confront Congress and the hugely powerful pro-Israel lobby and dictate to both sides the American peace plan....If John Kerry is unable to deliver this pressure, he should not even try.”

George Hishmeh, on the other hand, suggests that Mr. Kerry’s failure would open up the possibility of UN General Assembly action in favor of Palestine: “If, as reported, September is Kerry’s deadline for reaching a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, he ought to be aware that a failure to do so will allow the Palestinians to retaliate effectively at the UN General Assembly session the same month....Time is running out for Israel, and likewise for John Kerry who may shortly face serious public criticism from within the administration and among his former colleagues in Congress, where he had served admirably as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

Mr. Kerry’s increased diplomatic activity has drawn the attention of many of the regional dailies, most of which express a dim view of the current Israeli government. For example, the Oman Tribune editorial asks: “What’s the point of any type of peace mission by anyone to the Middle East to resolve the differences between the Palestinians and Israelis on crucial issues?...It has been very obvious for a long time that the Israelis are not at all interested in peace and the American peace initiatives. A case in point is Israel’s announcement of the construction of 69 settler homes in Har Homa....As days pass by, the plight of the Palestinians is only increasing and hopes of a durable peace and freedom for the Palestinians appear to be receding.”

Similarly, the Peninsula editorial is critical of recent moves by the Israeli government which show bad faith on the part of Netanyahu: “Israel has been ridiculing every peace effort by brazenly continuing its settlement expansion, and so far neither Kerry nor any other U.S. official has shown any courage to persuade the Jewish state to stop this violation, which according to Palestinians, is the single biggest obstacle to resuming talks....The latest move to add housing is unhelpful and Kerry is punching in darkness if he can’t do anything about these illegal and arrogant acts. The Palestinians have refused to return to talks without a freeze in settlement construction.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.