The rumors began flying some time in the evening on Wednesday. Something was up in the Middle East, including a potential breakthrough in reopening negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Ed checked on the story on Thursday and found that the biggest piece of link-bait in it – the idea of Israel agreeing to a return to pre-1967 borders as a ticket back to the bargaining table – was roundly denied by officials. But that hasn’t put an end to the speculation by a long shot.
Nothing ever seems to come easy in the Middle East, but Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that there was “a basis” for a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which would be the first such talks in several years.
Kerry made the announcement in Amman, Jordan, after a series of discussions with Palestinian and Arab leaders.
“We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Kerry said. “This is a significant and welcome step forward.”
The article goes on to reinforce Ed’s conclusion that the 1967 borders rumor was nothing more than a piece of media trolling to try to force Israel’s hand. Netanyahu ruled that out by Thursday night, and it doesn’t appear to be some form of stagecraft to establish a better initial bargaining position. So what is it, if anything, that John Kerry has actually accomplished here, and why are we hearing about it now?
In short, not much of anything. The Secretary of State’s most recent press release seems to admit precisely that if you take the time to read through the blizzard of self-congratulatory and hopeful adjectives. “[An] agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations?” That sounds more like something out of a Mel Brooks film than a breakthrough in a decades long, stagnant negotiation. Were one a bit more cynical, one might reword it to say, “We’ve definitely come up with an idea that both sides said they might think about as a way to agree on a time to have a phone call about resuming talks without immediately hanging up on each other.”
Granted, that might be better than nothing, but not by much. Yes, he’s saying that they’ve already agreed to come to Washington for a chat. And, at least according to CNN, Israel has agreed to release some Palestinian hostages as a precursor to the “deal” in the works. But agreeing to a phone call in DC isn’t much different than agreeing from your house. And as for the Israeli offer on the prisoners, it’s not the first time they’ve made a good will gesture. Does that add up to some type of imminent deal?
What’s far more likely to my way of thinking can be discovered by simply looking at the calendar. In little more than six months the serious ground work will be well underway for anyone thinking of running for President. And while Kerry may be the only one delusional enough to find the idea plausible, he still hasn’t gotten over his loss in 2004 and feels that he’s owed another bite at that apple. Kerry coveted the SecState position for years, and if I may be pardoned for being a bit skeptical, it wasn’t just out of some desire to heal the world. His credentials for a POTUS bid were never all that strong, but a turn at State would burnish them considerably. (Look what it’s done for Hillary in the popular media.) And both parties in the talks get the benefit of some good PR on the world stage for looking like they’re trying.
But as for Kerry, just being in the office isn’t enough. Whether it’s looking for a huge hit on the resume for a presidential bid or just to try to cement his legacy, Kerry needs a big win in foreign affairs. And there’s no bigger brass ring on this ride than a “victory” in the Middle East peace process. Unfortunately for him, nobody has actually accomplished anything substantial and lasting there since the end of the Yom Kippur War and the sealing and stabilization of the Egyptian border. The idea that Kerry has suddenly thought of something nobody else has tried, leading to some new era of progress, is more than a little far fetched. Far more likely is the idea that Kerry is just trying to polish his own apple before his time in a very advantageous office runs out.