Do no harm

 A political analyst should never say never. Things change. Politicians generally mask their intentions, and occasionally surprise constituents with their flexibility. Remember Nixon''s opening to China.

John Kerry may be hoping for something like that from Benyamin Netanyahu, and maybe even from Mahmoud Abbas. It may happen, but unlikely is a legitimate word in political analysis.
Few Israeli or Palestinian commentators are predicting anything from John Kerry''s recent efforts. Typical of the responses described in a recent New York Times article focus on the Secretary''s expectations, ask why he is continuing with the effort, and how can he expect flexibility when the underlying conditions have not changed, these same leaders appear to be locked in to the postures they and their predecessors have adhered to for years, and when events surrounding Israel and Palestine appear to be making it even more unlikely that either Palestinians or Israelis will budge.
Most Israeli commentators expect that Netanyahu will insist on a lack of "preconditions," but express "expectations" that are significantly beyond what Palestinians can accept. Meanwhile, Palestinians are still demanding concessions--including the release of prisoners convicted of murder and the acceptance of territorial conceptions from 1967 or 1949--as a price for beginning negotiations, which Israel''s leadership appears unwilling to accept.
Against the possibility that Netanyahu may be too flexible, there are noises of rebellion from the right wing of the Likud Knesset membership, one of whose leaders I recall as a student in my seminar on public policy. Netanyahu might be thinking of his predecessor at the head of Likud, Ariel Sharon, who faced his own rebellion and was forced from the party''s leadership over the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza.
There may be a few optimists who still think that Arab Spring and its offsprings represent the onset of democracy. However, the record in Egypt and Libya, and especially the ongoing civil war in Syria suggest something else. Israelis see no reason to risk territorial concessions when they face instability and the ascendance of greater extremism over their northern border, Egypt is wracked by mass demonstrations against its new government, and Jordan may be vulnerable. Palestinians also worry about the contagion of chaos. Their own radicals may rise against any leader who makes concessions to the Jews, even to the point of admitting the legitimacy of Israel''s existence.
The headline says that "Kerry sees Progress in Effort to Revive Mideast Talks", and the first paragraph is
"After four days of the most intense Middle East peace push in years, Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel on Sunday without securing a public commitment that the two sides would return to the negotiating table, though he insisted that “real progress” had been made and said that a resumption of talks “could be within reach.” In what has become a familiar refrain, Mr. Kerry promised to return to the region soon."
According to one observer, 
"This is the fifth bid by the leading diplomat of the world’s superpower to persuade these two people to go into a room together, and even that he cannot achieve . . . At some point it becomes embarrassing and humiliating for the United States.”

According to an optimist, "There are going to be talks . . . What we see is last-minute haggling about how to pose before the cameras.”

The article goes on to say that getting the parties to the bargaining table--which Kerry has not be able to accomplish--would be the easy part. Much more difficult would come next. There are ample signs that if the parties do get to the table, they will be unwilling or unable to bridge the persistent differences in the way to any meaningful agreements.
If frustration in international politics is potentially dangerous and something to be avoided, why is America''s chief diplomat working so hard in a context that seems only likely to produce frustration? With frustration will be accusations from Palestinian and Israeli populations that their leaders went too far and produced nothing. Coming after that might be an uptick in Palestinian violence against other Palestinians and against Israelis.
By this scenario, the Secretary of State is playing with fire in a region already burning, with much additional tinder waiting to explode.
Remember Barack Obama''s Cairo speech, calling for democracy and equality, and his administration''s abandonment of the moderate Hosni Mubarak. It may be a stretch to say that those actions by themselves caused the chaos of Libya and Syria, and the continued unrest in Egypt. However, the President must accept some responsibility for what came after his Cairo speech.
To his credit, the President seems to have given up Iraq and Afghanistan as hopeless, even while declaring success in both places.
Do no harm is prominent in medical ethics. 
Should we also expect it to be somewhere in the ethics of political leaders? However, they lack systematic professional training. It would be elitist and undemocratic to demand the licensing of politicians. And for those of who have read a page or two of history, the linking of politics and ethics would be expecting too much.
Populism is the name of the game played by politicians, and demagoguery is a close cousin of populism. 
Peace in the Holy Land may be among the greatest of aspirations, but Do no harm is also admirable.
We are the land of miracles. It''s been 2000 and some years since the virgin birth.
If we are due for another, this may be it.
Never say never.