WASHINGTON – John Kerry scored a major diplomatic victory Friday, announcing on
his sixth trip to the region as US secretary of state a deal enabling the
resumption of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian
Representatives will travel to Washington next week to begin
That is where the difficulties will begin for the US. In
both Israel and within the PLO, major coalition members have threatened revolt
over basic negotiation points: prisoner releases, a preliminary acceptance of
pre-1967 borders and settlement construction, among other issues. If these
players genuinely threaten to disrupt their respective governments, Kerry may
see an end to the negotiations he fought so hard to achieve before they even
begin in earnest.
Kerry may have also exhausted a unique brand of
political leverage: low expectations. Afraid of embarrassing the secretary of
state, both parties have handed him a much needed victory. The parties can now
say they have made an authentic effort at talks and bail under the excuse of
intense domestic political pressures.
Reluctance from the White House to
comment on the development may demonstrate trepidation: Kerry still owns the
process, and the president can be expected to enter the fray only if he sees
genuine partners in peace from both sides.
Nevertheless, Kerry’s ability
to get the parties to the table speaks to his unique, and much-criticized,
diplomatic style: quiet, patient and personal.
The circle of players with
direct knowledge of Kerry’s strategy has been exceptionally small. Whether that
privacy can be sustained through the next stage, as expectations mount, remains
to be seen.
“It’s the first direct talks in several years, and that’s
significant. But it shouldn’t be overblown. They basically agreed to disagree,
and to talk about that,” said Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Saban Center for
Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
“There’s a sense the
parties are entering the talks with an eye on the blame game. So the challenge
now for Kerry is to remain quiet, to avoid that,” he stated.