After 20 years of stops, starts and a bloody intifada in between, John Kerry believes he can pull out a final status Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in nine months. What clock is the U.S. top diplomat trying to beat?
According to his aides, the one ticking down as Syria and Egypt roil into unknowable futures and Palestinians fume at the prospect of never achieving sovereignty.
“It’s becoming more complicated on the ground, and a feeling of pessimism is settling in among Israelis and Palestinians,” said a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s getting harder, not easier.”
On Tuesday, Kerry disclosed few details about a process that has been arranged and conducted largely behind a veil of secrecy.
Kerry said said the next round of meetings would be conducted in the region and that Israel had agreed to take steps to ease conditions for the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza reference was new. Since the Hamas takeover of the strip in 2007, Israeli confidence-building measures have focused only on areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
“The parties have agreed to remain engaged in sustained, continuous and substantive negotiations on the core issues, and they will meet within the next two weeks in either Israel or the Palestinian territories in order to begin the process of formal negotiation,” Kerry said in an appearance at the State Department flanked by the top negotiator from each side, Tzipi Livni for Israel and Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians.
The breadth of Kerry’s ambition is breathtaking given the failure of multiple U.S. administrations over two decades to bring the conflict to a close and end the deep skepticism that exists on both sides. In recent weeks, top Israeli officials have declared the two-state solution dead and talked of managing rather than resolving the conflict.