Here’s an excerpt from a “Broken Spring” chapter putting the talks in context:
Despite all the international attention and Israel’s own obsession with its role in Middle East politics in general and Arab Spring in particular, the Arab world itself does not focus on Israel that much. Arab nations are much more concerned with their monumental internal problems.
Washington, on the other hand, appears to have an obsession with the tiny Israel-Palestinian conflict involving a number of people equal to only about half of Cairo’s population, a sliver of the Middle East.
There’s a way to explain it with a little joke.
“Because he can” is the second line of a somewhat raunchy two-liner about a dog’s physical capabilities.
The reality is that the U.S. no longer has the political clout in this part of the world that it once had. The last of it was lost in Iraq, when President Bush sent in his army to depose a dictator, claiming falsely that he had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
The U.S. fought its way through Iraq, alienating practically everyone in Iraq and infuriating the Arab world. By the time President Obama pulled the last of the combat troops out, America was what my university logic professor called a “reliable anti-authority.” In this case, it means whatever the Americans try to do in this region will backfire.
So the only way the U.S. can realistically involve itself in the post–Arab Spring Middle East is by what its critics disparage as “leading from the rear.” That means maintaining contacts with regimes, opening lines of communication with rebels and trying to influence policy, but gently and quietly. Anything beyond that is automatically counterproductive.
Except when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry is welcomed by both sides. Both have reasons to accommodate U.S. desires. It took him six trips, but he got the talks restarted. A rare victory.
Of course, unless the U.S. plans to impose a solution, the talks themselves will go nowhere.
Even the consistently superficial Israeli-Arab columnist Sayed Kashua pointed out that Kerry has only managed to bring back the same negotiators who have failed again and again. The last time was in 2008, when Israel offered a Palestinian state in the equivalent of all of the West Bank, plus Gaza and the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, yet that did not produce a peace accord. Other issues scuttled the talks, as they have before – Jerusalem, refugees and the like.
It’s unlikely that a similar offer will emerge from the current talks.
Never mind. It’s clear that the U.S. has no hope of significantly shaping the immediate future anywhere else in this region.
So why, when there are real issues and real problems in the Mideast, does John Kerry spend so much time restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks that are practically guaranteed to fail?
Because he can.