Call it the trap of the State Department. Almost every time a new secretary of state takes office, he (or she, as the case may be) decides the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is completely solvable and that it’s his job to solve it.
John Kerry has fallen into the trap.
There is little reason to believe that peace is even possible at this point in time, and it’s hard to see a reason why the nation’s top diplomat should make it his top priority, especially considering everything else that is happening in the region.
Yet Kerry has traveled to Israel and Palestine five times since he took office in February, always promising progress but leaving with nothing concrete to show for his efforts.
It’s generally assumed that pursuing peace is a noble goal, but the Israeli media isn’t buying it anymore.
Times of Israel founder and editor-in-chief David Horovitz wrote an opinion piece called “Why ‘a little more work’ won’t do it, Mr. Kerry,” in which he questions Kerry’s assurances that progress has been made.
Insanity — according to a definition variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Confucius, and most credibly to a 30-year-old book called “Narcotics Anonymous” — is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
According to Horovitz, Kerry might get Netanyahu and Abbas to begin peace talks, but they will lead to little substantial progress. He continues:
The point is: So what? The point is that Kerry is investing immense personal energy and time, and the United States’ diplomatic prestige, in desperately chivying Netanyahu and Abbas merely to the starting pointof a path that has already been walked many times before — a path that, the bitter experience running right through the Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies shows, leads only to a dead end.
That’s why the definition of insanity unfortunately resonates when considering the secretary’s indefatigable efforts. He is straining to persuade Netanyahu and Abbas to begin talking when we know that such negotiations can only lead to the same failure they have yielded in the past.
There is a lot of daylight between the Israeli and Palestinian positions right now, and it isn’t a gap that can be easily closed, as much as Kerry wishes it was. As Horovitz explains, the current climate is not hospitable to peace and the Palestinians do not believe in the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, so Kerry is wasting his time.
According to Horovitz, American energies should be spent elsewhere:
Change the climate. Gradually create an atmosphere of mutual respect, and a shared, fervent desire for an accommodation. Then you won’t have to be cajoling reluctant leaders back to the peace table.
An analysis by Raphael Ahren for the same publication titled “Almost there, Mr. Secretary? Really?” posed similar questions:
Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a laudable goal, and Kerry might initially have been forgiven a belief that he was somehow uniquely qualified to break the deadlock. But visit after visit should surely have long since underlined a few simple truths: The two sides mistrust each other. Each is more concerned with avoiding blame for failed talks than prepared to take risks in the faint hope of success. Netanyahu and Abbas are also both looking over their shoulders at rivals and bitter opponents poised to capitalize on any missteps. And the unchanging bottom line: The most that Netanyahu might conceivably offer Abbas, were they ever to actually get to the table, is less than Abbas might conceivably accept — less than Ehud Olmert offered in his unrequited bid for an accord in 2008.
These doubts aren’t limited to The Times of Israel. In a column for Bloomberg, Ari Shavit, a left-wing Israeli columnist for Haaretz, told Jeffrey Goldberg that he thought Kerry’s plan would fail:
I called Ari Shavit, Israel’s leading columnist and a man who very much wants to see a Palestinian state created on the West Bank, to ask him if my bleakness was unjustified. “I’m just this moment putting the Champagne bottles in the fridge,” he said. “I expect to open them shortly. We’re all going to have special permission from the Muslim Brotherhood to drink Champagne.”
Shavit’s withering sarcasm wasn’t matched by contempt for Kerry, though. Like many Israelis, Shavit has a strange kind of respect for Kerry’s quixotic efforts. “Kerry is a decent, noble American trying to bring peace to a tormented land and a troubled region, and I salute him for his benign intentions and commitment and energy,” Shavit said. “But that said, I think this good will and energy and political capital is being invested in a course of action that resembles too much the previous attempts that have failed. I think the right approach is to learn from the failures of the past and to do something practical that relates to the realities on the ground rather than reach for something that is totally unrealistic. There is no serious Israeli or Palestinian who thinks that the Kerry approach would work.”
When a guy who believes in a two-state solution as strongly as Shavit doesn’t think your plan will work, shouldn’t you take that as a sign that you should reconsider your strategy?
It seems like a safe bet to say that most of the Western world sees a two-state solution as the eventual outcome in the conflict. Unfortunately, eventual is not immediate, and it’s going to take a lot more than just getting Netanyahu and Abbas at a table to solve all of the issues there. Instead of putting his time and energy into a fruitless endeavor, Kerry should be focusing on the rest of the very unstable Middle East.