Analysis: Kerry's Mideast breakthrough raises the stakes

Domestic considerations could prompt Israel, PLO to back out.

kerry meeting with netanyahu both smiling 370 (photo credit: GPO/Amos Ben Gershom)
kerry meeting with netanyahu both smiling 370
(photo credit: GPO/Amos Ben Gershom)
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 Authority.
Representatives will travel to Washington next week to begin negotiations.
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.