Middle East talks: To turn things around, Kerry trying an about-face
John Kerry appears to have studied the latest launch of Middle East talks in 2010 and resolved to do the opposite with the round beginning Wednesday, including, for example, the stance on Israeli settlements.
As he devised the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that are to resume in Jerusalem and Jericho Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry appears to have studied the most recent launch of talks in 2010 – and then resolved this time to do the opposite.Skip to next paragraph
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The talks that get under way in Jerusalem will be between negotiators for the two sides and won’t start off with top leaders as they did before. Mr. Kerry insisted on a commitment from each side to stick to negotiations for nine months – after the last round collapsed after just three weeks.
Kerry didn’t make securing a freeze of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands – the issue that derailed the 2010 round – a condition for the talks. He’s also placed something of a gag order on the negotiating parties – declaring that all sides have agreed that any news from the talks will come from him – in hopes of avoiding the rumors and public positioning that accompanied the 2010 talks.
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“Kerry took a long look at what went wrong before, and now we’re seeing in these talks an effort to avoid those mistakes,” says David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “What he’s trying to do is avoid some of the traps of the past.”
In October 2010, the talks commenced with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, “and when they quickly reached an impasse, there was nowhere higher to go,” Mr. Makovsky notes. The commitment to nine months of talks looks like a direct response to 2010’s quick collapse, he adds. And Kerry “insisting on keeping a close hand on what comes out publicly from the talks” strikes Makovsky as an effort to nip in the bud the kind of “negative messaging” that tainted the last go-around.
“These are the anti-2009-2010 talks,” Makovsky says, adding, “We’ll have to see if that makes a difference.”
Wednesday’s talks will launch amid very low expectations, the result of almost zero trust between the two sides. But if this latest round of negotiations has any chance of succeeding, it will be because of Kerry’s participation, his understanding of the pitfalls of the past – and his conviction that this time may be the last opportunity to resolve what he calls the “granddaddy” of US diplomatic challenges.
For many naysayers, the major difference they see this time around – Kerry’s determination to restart a stalled peace process and the discipline he appears to have imposed on the parties – won’t be enough to overcome the high hurdles ahead. Israel’s announcement this week of permits for up to 1,200 new housing units on land occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is souring the atmosphere even before the talking starts, some say.
For others, Kerry’s stipulation in his July 30 announcement of the new talks that negotiators will address all of the “final-status issues” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all but foretold the new round’s doom.