US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem June 28, 2013. (Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin)
Skepticism abounds, and it’s not promising that Martin Indyk might lead the American side in Israeli-Palestinian talks that, it seems, will begin after six visits to the Middle East in six months by Secretary of State John Kerry. But the start of the talks, expected to last at least six months, is a hopeful sign.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Kerry did bring some concessions from Israel to the Palestinian side:
The secretary of state told Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas [the Palestinian president] that the Israeli government had agreed to quietly halt building in Jewish West Bank settlements, but wouldn’t make any public announcement to that effect, according to the aide. He said [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu had also pledged to release some Palestinian prisoners before the first day of talks in Washington.
Mr. Kerry gave Mr. Abbas his own guarantee that peace talks would resume on the basis of Israel’s pre-1967 borders, the aide said.
The prisoner release, in particular has riled the Israeli far right, but the hardline minister for strategic affairs told reporters that the Palestinians to be set free “will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years.”
Still, just getting the talks started isn’t the objective. The objective, of course, is the creation of a sustainable, financially stable, militarily secure Palestinian state that can create a viable future for people who’ve lived under military occupation for decades or who’ve been scattered as refugees since 1948. That’s certainly not an outcome that Israel desires, and it isn’t clear yet that either Kerry or President Obama see that as an important national security goal for the United States, either.
Kerry has created a framework that, he seems to believe, will move the talks forward. He’s engineered a vague, but promising $4 billion economic development plan for the Palestinian territories. He’s mobilized military experts, including a former US commander in Afghanistan, to work out some sort of military-security plan for the West Bank, aimed at overcoming Israeli fears about a Hezbollah-like threat arising there. He’s dispatched technical experts to work on the knotty issues, such as refugees and borders. But we’ll have to wait to see if the two sides have agreed to talks, under pressure from Kerry, just to please the United States, or if they’re willing to move forward.