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Kerry’s Illusion of Momentum

Lest anyone think Secretary of State John Kerry was working hard to deal with urgent foreign-policy problems today, fear not. Although he was doing nothing to end the standoff with Russia over Edward Snowden, stop Iran’s nuclear program, deal with the chaos in Egypt or the ongoing civil war in Syria that is strengthening Tehran’s hand, he didn’t come away empty-handed from his latest trip to the Middle East to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Nobody other than Kerry seriously believes Kerry’s efforts to re-start the peace process will succeed. Both sides are at pains to try to avoid getting the blame for the inevitable failure. Yet Kerry hasn’t persuaded the Palestinians to negotiate, let alone actually end the conflict with Israel and, indeed, may be making things worse by encouraging them to ask for more preconditions that serve as a pretext for staying away from the talks. But his fool’s errand did get the endorsement of the Arab League today.

The statement from the League won’t alter the division among Palestinians between Hamas and Fatah that makes peace impossible. Nor will it prevent Abbas from raising the ante, as he keeps demanding more concessions from Israel in order to sit with them while having no intention of actually negotiating. But it does give Kerry the illusion of momentum that he needs so desperately in order to justify wasting his time on a dead end that offers no chance of a resolution while urgent situations that require his attention are given short shrift.

Though the New York Times trumpeted the Arab League statement as proof that Kerry’s efforts are being rewarded with success, the real news came out of Ramallah where, as Ynet reported, Abbas was doubling down on his insistence on a laundry list of preconditions before he will consider returning to the negotiations that he has been boycotting since the start of the Obama administration. According to Western sources, Kerry’s latest meeting with Abbas to get him to rejoin the talks didn’t get him to budge but it did yield more demands from the Fatah leader.

In addition to the massive infusion of Western aid into the coffers of the Palestinian Authority that Kerry has been offering Abbas, they are now asking for an airport and the right to build hotels on the Dead Sea in areas that have heretofore been under exclusive Israeli control, as well as more work permits for Palestinians to enter Israel. The ostensible purpose of these provisions would be to boost the dormant Palestinian economy, but obviously Israelis would have reason to worry about how Fatah would use an airport and whether the permits might open up an avenue for terrorism that has been closed by the security fence in the West Bank.

It isn’t likely that Israel would agree to all of these demands any more than they will give in on the various other points raised by the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly insisted on negotiations without preconditions, a stand endorsed by President Obama during his visit to the region in March. But what Kerry doesn’t seem to realize is that the endless bargaining in which the Palestinians talk about talking is merely another delaying tactic intended to serve as an excuse for their failure to actually negotiate. Though Kerry claimed a victory today and keeps saying that the gap between the sides is getting smaller, his trips only seem to encourage the Palestinians to keep asking for more without ever gaining their assent to deal with the Israelis.

There are those who may wonder what the president thinks about the secretary’s lack of actual success, but the more time he spends pursuing this dead end, the more likely it is that President Obama is perfectly happy to let Kerry chase his tail in this manner since it takes him out of the loop on other, more important issues that are being handled out of the White House. Kerry’s mythical illusion of momentum allows him to continue in this manner, but it also may be serving as an excuse to keep him from applying his inept diplomatic style elsewhere. As bad as the president has been doing on other fronts, it is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise that Kerry is diverted elsewhere, lest he make things even worse in Egypt, Syria, Iran or Russia.



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