Facing the prospect of seeing his own Middle East peace initiative crumble, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry publicly begged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to rescue his own peace process.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Kerry “made a public appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take the ‘lead’ and save the peace process” while at the same time conceding that he is powerless to do anything more himself to keep the deteriorating negotiations alive.
Kerry said there is a limit to what the Obama administration can do to push the two parties together. “You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises,” he said. “The leaders have to lead and they have to be able to see a moment when it’s there.”
His plea followed a stormy meeting between American envoy Martin Indyk and the Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiations late Wednesday night. Sources described the meeting as a “fierce political battle” and said that Indyk was unable to cool the atmosphere. The sources said that the Israeli side threatened the Palestinians with unprecedented sanctions in response to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat’s provocative declaration that their team was representing the occupied Palestinian state recognized by the United Nations.
Erekat also threatened that should the situation escalate, the Palestinians will prosecute Israel for war crimes in the international arena.
Even dovish Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the Israeli team, angrily asked the Palestinians why they had appealed to join 15 international conventions (in breach of the terms of the negotiations with Israel) only hours before the cabinet was to meet to approve the prisoner release that the Palestinians had demanded.
Kerry said that Indyk’s seven-hour meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams in Jerusalem on Wednesday brought some progress, but that gaps remain. He did not specify what that progress might have been, as all indications pointed to heated argument and failure to agree on anything important.
Kerry said it would be a “tragedy” for both sides to lose the opportunity “to get to those real issues that are the differences of the final status agreement.” However, it is precisely those real issues on which Kerry has been unable to make any progress through eight months of negotiations.
In fact, the failure of the Obama/Kerry peace initiative may have succeeded only in poisoning the atmosphere between the two sides and making tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians materially worse than they were before the initiative.
There is every indication that a major rift between Israelis and Palestinians is looming.