Optimism is the primary trait needed when it comes to mediation. US Secretary of State John Kerry had this aplenty when he embarked on finding a solution to what is long considered an intractable issue: the Middle East dispute. When he first started work on his project, many thought he was wasting his time, investing in something that was guaranteed to fail. But he hurled himself into peacemaking with a virulence that made even his critics shut up for some time. He invested more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy, meeting Palestinians and Israelis and selling them the possible fruits of peace.
Now, when everybody thought his efforts had reached a crucial phase, comes a dampener -- Kerry said yesterday there were limits to the time Washington could devote to the peace process. His warning came after a spiral of spiral of tit-for-tat moves by Israel and Palestinians which are threatening to undo the hard-won gains.
Kerry is an astute and experienced politician and statesman. He knows the Himalayan dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and if he still sought to climb it, it was with the best intentions. He can assess the reasons for the hurdles that have appeared on the road, but people of this region have their own assessment, which they have been voicing for a long time: that Israel has no genuine interest in peace. If at all the Jewish state wants any peace, it’s the kind that would make Palestinians relinquish all their major claims. No peace is possible in any dispute without both sides making substantial concessions, but the government of Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t believe in making concessions.
One of the hurdles in the talks has been Israel’s refusal to release more Palestinian prisoners. Since then, Palestinians threatened to seek more UN recognition for their state. President Mahmud Abbas signed on Tuesday applications to adhere to 15 international treaties, and Netanyahu has asked his officials to draw up a range of tough reprisals.
It’s unlikely that Kerry’s latest warning will have any impact. The reason is that Israel considers itself more powerful than the mediator, and is going to the talks with the attitude of a master. Unlike in the past, Israel is in a position of strength. The Palestinian side has weakened considerably, with deep divisions between Hamas and Fatah and the Arab world losing its interest in the issue. The Arab Spring also has strengthened Tel Aviv. With all the energies of the Arab world internally focused, there is nothing left for ‘other’ issues.
Perhaps, Palestinians can wait until the Arab world is able to put their house in order.