It’s not yet official, but it looks as though the Americans have decided to back off the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Haaretz reports, “President Barack Obama is expected to meet as early as tomorrow with Secretary of State John Kerry to begin a “reevaluation” of the extent of U.S. involvement.” US envoy Martin Indyk will be holding a last-ditch session with the parties later today in the hope of salvaging the talks, but the odds of success are slim.
According to Haaretz, the US administration has nothing but praise for Kerry’s tireless (or quixotic, depending on your point of view) efforts to get the two sides to negotiate. Blame is to be apportioned not to the Secretary but to the parties themselves, with an extra helping for one in particular:
Publicly, the Americans are pointing a finger at both sides, but in private the messages are different. Although the White House is angry at the Palestinians for going to the United Nations, most of its ire is directed at the Israeli government, to which it ascribes most responsibility for the crisis.
This is because the Americans believe Israel failed to honor its pledge to go through with the fourth phase of the Palestinian prisoner release, and because of the publication of a construction tender for housing in East Jerusalem at the most critical juncture on extending the talks.
The three prisoner releases that did take place, it will be recalled, were given by the Israelis to the Palestinians free of charge, with no corresponding concessions expected of any kind. They were intended simply to get the Palestinians to sit down at the table. One could argue that a party that has to be bribed to talk doesn’t really want to talk, and that a party that responds to the bribe by pocketing it, refusing to talk, and humiliating the power broker that arranged it really really doesn’t want to talk, but such points are generally dismissed as too simplistic. Apparently it did eventually penetrate in Washington that the Palestinians are acting in bad faith, even if a construction tender in East Jerusalem is still perceived as far more damaging and duplicitous than flouting the entire basis of the US-backed peace initiative and hightailing it to First Avenue.
The prime mover behind the US pullback is allegedly Susan Rice, who is said to believe that “the United States should reduce its involvement in light of a lack of willingness on the part of the Israelis and Palestinians to make the tough decisions.” Kerry himself is using striking new language. Yesterday in Rabat, he said of the Israeli-Palestinian process:
It’s reality-check time. We are going to evaluate very carefully exactly where this is and where it might possibly be able to go…There are limits in the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward. This is not an open-ended effort. It never has been. Neither party has said they have called it off, but we are not going to sit there indefinitely.
An entirely understandable sentiment. It shall never be said you didn’t try. Go in peace, Secretary Kerry.