Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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Is the White House Pulling the Plug on Kerry’s Peace Mission?

by Robert M. Danin
April 2, 2014

U.S. secretary of state John Kerry listens to U.S. president Barack Obama (Downing/Courtesy Reuters).


Secretary of State John Kerry abruptly cancelled his Middle East shuttle diplomacy yesterday less than a month before his self-imposed deadline for concluding an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. The New York Times leads today with a quote from a senior Obama administration official saying, “Mr. Kerry’s decision not to return to the region immediately reflected a growing impatience in the White House, which believes that his mediating efforts have reached their limit and that the two sides need to work their way out of the current impasse.”

If true, it would mean that the White House had cut the legs out from its lead diplomat just as he was trying to avert a complete meltdown of the U.S.-initiated high-stakes diplomatic process. It followed a dramatic day in which Kerry had thrown a diplomatic ‘Hail Mary’ designed to keep the fledgling negotiations from collapsing entirely.

While the details of Kerry’s most recent proposal remain sketchy, it seems to entail a package of measures that would include an agreement by both parties to remain in negotiations, Israel to proceed with its overdue release of a batch of Palestinian prisoners promised at the onset of this recent Kerry diplomatic chapter, an additional Israeli release of Palestinian prisoners, some limit to settlement activity, a Palestinian suspension of their threat to activate their membership in the United Nations, and as the news-grabbing sweetener, the U.S. release of Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned for spying on the United States for Israel. The situation became even more complicated when Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas last night announced he was taking concrete steps to join fifteen international agencies, though U.S. officials suggested that this move was a negotiating ploy and not an effort to undermine the secretary of state’s efforts.

As Kerry worked feverishly to salvage the process he initiated last summer, why would the White House turn it off lest it end in a blaze of recriminations, an absence of a back-up plan, and a distinctly possible resort to violence on the ground? One reason may be that as the day progressed, and the voices opposed to the Pollard-for-more-peace-process grew louder (both the Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee came out against it), the White House decided that the Kerry proposal was too costly to support. Had Kerry not coordinated his ideas with the White House before floating them with the parties?

The White House suspension of Kerry’s efforts may simply be a tactical move designed to force Israelis and Palestinians to stew a bit and ponder the cost of a failed peace process. Such a calculation, that the two sides need to work their way out of the current impasse, is conceptually flawed. Israelis and Palestinians have repeatedly demonstrated that they cannot find a way to “work their way out” by themselves. Indeed, the whole logic of Kerry’s involvement was based on this assessment and of the need for a third-party facilitator.

However justified the criticisms of Secretary of State Kerry’s approach, the Obama administration, having launched this high profile effort at comprehensive peace, cannot simply disown its own initiative just as it appears to be on the verge of collapse. In the past month, the president himself hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, and other Middle East officials at the White House, signaling that this peace effort was the administration’s and not simply John Kerry’s. As its patron, the United States has a responsibility, at a minimum, to find a soft landing for its fledgling effort.

A free fall now would be self-imposed, and would jeopardize the serious and constructive Israeli-Palestinian economic and security cooperative efforts underway on the ground. It could rapidly lead to major diplomatic fighting in international bodies, such as the United Nations and at the International Criminal Court. The center of gravity within Palestinian circles could quickly shift towards radicals and renewed violent efforts at “resistance.” Israel would surely take punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority, withholding tax revenues that help pay salaries, limiting access and movement of Palestinians, and stepping up its military footprint in the West Bank.

Having repeatedly made the argument since last summer that such moves would be catastrophic, the United States owes it to the people of the Middle East not to be the party that helps bring about this disastrous outcome.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Jim Hurt

    Kerry’s “Framework Agreement”, if recent reports are to be believed, was disastrously tilted in favor of the Israelis. Far better to put it to rest, especially since this has allowed Abbas to make a strong statement that even the Palestinians have limits. Abbas has consistently rejected violence; increasing his credibility among the rank and file at this time may actually be crucial to restraining violence, at least on the part of Palestinians. They have tried the Kerry and the U.S., now let them try the EU and the UN. Meanwhile, the traitor remains in jail, where he belongs…

  • Posted by Frank Adam

    So if we do descend to discontents if not violence, how short are the odds on an Arab assassin getting at Obama for being “pro -Israel” by envisaging a peace with Israel’s existing as a Jewish self-determined majority?

  • Posted by B ˙Hollander

    Israel has released 4 groups of Palestinian terrorists. And the P.A ???The Palestinian Authority has not even tried to negotiate in good faith,but tried end runs with the UNITED NATION AGENCIES

    .MR OBAMA’S Muslin administration tilt to the Arabs was made eminently clear by his speech in Cairo , when he was newly inaugurated in his first term

  • Posted by Karl Hodgson

    All my life I have seen Israel and the Palestinians fighting and I grew up in the 50’s. Reality seems to be that going back to the Balfour Agreement Israel was basically a scam to get socialistic Jews from Russia to go there instead of Britain and use them to control oil in the middle east plus the Suez. Today it’s another matter and what seems to be happening is the slow gradual elimination of the “problem” by squeezing the Palestinians to the point they no longer exist. Similar to the way Native Americans were eliminated in North America – stuck in POW camps(reservations) for gradual assimilation or elimination.
    As for John Kerry? I thought he made a deal with the Iranians in Geneva with the oil executives and everyone was happy. With Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Lybia all signing on the line with major oil companies Israel seems of little importance. Russian oil and gas seem to be the big prize now although didn’t Putin sign that Kara Sea deal with XOM last year and cut out BP? Thought we were all good buddies again. Biggest national security threat I see is driving the Russians towards the Chinese! Heck all they have to do is build some pipelines and that undermines our leverage controlling China(world’s largest oil importer). I would also like to mention that pissing off Putin means he could shut off the gas to Europe again before we could supply them from sources we control. I hope the big boys know what they’re doing. Problem I have with CFR is have you folks ever heard the saying:”You can catch more flies with honey than …..” I think the biggest concern you have is trying to keep the price of oil in a nice trading range for the next 20-30 years and what about Alberta? Already get a ton of oil(CWS) through Enbridge down here and all that talk about the Keystone is BS-we already have lots of pipes in Nebraska. If I was the new John J. McCloy I’d instruct the CIA to merge the USA with Canada for one thing. They sure messed up in the middle east having to send in the whole US military. Canada is easier they almost speak our language except for the French. How about at least eliminating the 15% tax I have to pay to the Canadian “government” on investments including a Canadian REIT owning property right here in my home town in the USA! That just isn’t right. Israel? Who? CANADA!!!

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