Michael Cohen credits Kerry for getting this far:
The diplomatic breakthrough engineered by John Kerry that led to direct talks in Washington this week is really nothing less than astounding. Not only did Kerry – largely through his own grit and guile – get both sides to the table, he did so without raising any of the hackles of “pro-Israel” groups in the US and particularly in Congress. [Few] took Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy seriously and then suddenly the talks became a fait accompli before the usual suspects could torpedo it in advance.
Beyond this initial accomplishment, there are two other reasons for confidence in Kerry’s methods: first, he has made clear that the nine month talks are for the whole enchilada, namely all unresolved issues – no interim agreement or confidence building effort that can be undermined by the rejectionists on both sides as was the case with Oslo. Second, by getting the Arab League to reaffirm its commitment to recognizing Israel if a deal for Palestinian statehood is reached, he is not only putting pressure on Hamas, he is giving the Israelis one exceptionally large carrot. Any deal Netanyahu achieves, particularly one that dismantles settlements of divides Jerusalem, will set off a firestorm among right-wing and territorial-obsessed Israelis.
He’s done substantively far more in a few months as secretary of state than Hillary Clinton did in her entire competent, but quietist, term. Daoud Kattab explains why the Palestinians want heavy US guidance in peace talks this time around, despite America’s strong ties with Israel:
For the Palestinian side, the idea of trilateral, rather than bilateral, talks changes the dynamics of the negotiations for the better. By getting the United States into the negotiation room, the Palestinians are hoping that Washington will square its public posture — which has been rather fair and in sync with the international position on Palestine — and its real position in shielding Israel from the rest of the world. Palestinian thinking is that through their Arab and Muslim allies, they can help ensure that the Americans remain honest in the talks or bear the fruits of overt bias in the already boiling Middle East. Having US negotiators in the room also provides a sense of continuity that might help ensure that the basic issues of the sovereignty of the Palestinian state, equality of the land swaps (in size and quality) and genuine sharing of Jerusalem (especially the Old City) are reached.
While Palestinians are not expecting absolute fairness from the Americans, they are hoping that the cost of failure, that is, its ramifications on foreign policy and the strategic interests of the United States, is such that it will help produce a fairer US role in these talks.
Paul Pillar suggests that Netanyahu, and even Hamas, could still surprise us with progress:
A decades-old charter, even though it has effectively been countermanded by more recent declarations by Hamas leaders, is taken as the basis for saying that Hamas “does not recognize Israel’s right to exist” and therefore should be shunned if not strangled. Yet the charter of the Likud Party, which explicitly rejects the right of a Palestinian state to exist—a rejection that prominent members of the party have in effect reasserted—is not taken as a reason for disqualifying Likud leaders as interlocutors in a negotiation ostensibly aimed at creating a Palestinian state. The important point for the present purpose, however, is that even if one believes that the worst things said about Hamas’s objectives are probably true, careful consideration of cost, risks and possible benefits leads to the conclusion that Hamas should be engaged.
Let us approach Benjamin Netanyahu in the same spirit. We are entitled to retain healthy skepticism about his objectives, the more unfavorable interpretations of which may still turn out to be true. But we should give him every chance to demonstrate otherwise.
(Photo: US Secretary of State John Kerry listens during a press conference at the State Department on July 29, 2013, after announcing former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk will head the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that begin later this evening in Washington, DC. Just hours before Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to resume talks frozen for three years, Kerry said Indyk would take on the difficult task of trying to guide both sides to reach a full-fledged peace deal. By Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images)