John Kerry, Lone Ranger of the Middle East

The Secretary of State's Quixotic Bid to Reset the Peace Process

Having worked for half a dozen U.S. secretaries of state, I have never seen one as self-assured as John Kerry when it comes to pursuing the Middle East peace process. Forget envoys and experts: Kerry is committed to pursuing Lone Ranger diplomacy. 

This week, the Lone Ranger is making his fifth official visit to the Middle East as U.S. secretary of state, with the stated goal of finding some way to resuscitate peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And, on those terms, there is a good chance that he will succeed. Diplomacy is a get-along business. Nobody wants to be blamed for the collapse of the Kerry effort or to say no to a likeable and persistent secretary of state.

But Kerry surely knows that getting Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table is only the first step. The real challenge will be to get them to stay there. And in that endeavor, good will and persistence will only get him so far. In fact, in restarting talks right now, Kerry may be risking sowing the seeds of his own failure. And that raises the question of why he is so adamant about pushing for a quick renewal of peace talks in the first place. 

First, it is worth considering whether Kerry has an endgame in mind, particularly given the reality that a conflict-ending agreement on the core issues is almost certainly not possible now. It is likely that Kerry will try to focus negotiations in such a way as to give the two sides maximum cover, which means starting with territory and security, where the gaps are considerable but still narrower than they are on fraught issues like Jerusalem’s final status. Much of this conflict is about land, and if you could find a mutually agreeable border -- which would inevitably be based on the June 1967 lines, with adjustments and land swaps -- you might also be able to deal with other nagging questions. 

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