Analysis: Leak fears focus on blame and expectations

The president spoke to the press on the killing of Trayvon Martin. He had no comment, however, on the renewal of negotiations for Middle East peace.

July 22, 2013 06:19
1 minute read.
Kerry, with Abbas, makes a short statement for reporters during recent visit.

kerry, abbas face reporters 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – As US Secretary of State John Kerry was securing a fresh round of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians on Friday, the White House released statements on the Missouri Disaster Declaration, the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate and policy on transnational criminal organizations. The president spoke to the press on the killing of Trayvon Martin. He had no comment, however, on the renewal of negotiations for Middle East peace.

Quiet from the White House was consistent with weeks of meetings between Kerry, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, kept extraordinarily private as the three men traded ideas and concessions. Finally, as a deal was forged last week returning both parties to the table, the calculus behind Kerry’s strategic silence began to emerge.

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The bells and whistles of summits past, the op-eds and public pressures have not worked, Kerry believes. They have historically served two purposes that undermine peace efforts: to provide outlets for each party to leverage blame when talks ultimately succumb to failure, and to raise expectations within each camp that force political opponents of the two-state solution to apply pressure against their leaderships.

The State Department is already taking efforts to reinforce their strategy, dampening expectations in conversations with journalists on what next week will accomplish as the two parties meet for the first time in Washington. Officials say the process will take months, and will continue in the private manner on which Kerry has so far relied.

By shutting out even press attaches and senior-level aides, Kerry hopes to avoid the blame and expectations games that have doomed past efforts.

The question is whether Israeli and Palestinian leaders involved in the negotiations will be willing or able to play along.

The circle of players is about to get bigger as envoys – often rivals to their leaders in their local political spheres – become directly involved in the talks in Washington. Israeli officials are already leaking details of the negotiating points and strategy to the press.

As disciplined a body as it is unto itself, the State Department will not be able to control these leaks. That will be the responsibility of the immediate parties. Whether they can manage to do so will be a major test of leadership for both Netanyahu and Abbas.

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