U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that Washington was evaluating whether it was worth continuing its role in Middle East peace talks, signaling his patience with the Israelis and Palestinians was running out.
There was a limit to U.S. efforts if the parties themselves were unwilling to move forward, Kerry said during a visit to Morocco after a week of setbacks.
“This is not an open-ended effort, it never has been. It is reality check time, and we intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be,” Kerry said, adding he would return to Washington on Friday to consult with the Obama administration.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are likely to meet on Sunday, together with U.S. envoy Martin Indyk, to discuss a possible way forward, a source familiar with the talks said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged that President Barack Obama shared Kerry’s frustration over “unhelpful” actions by both sides and the two men would discuss the path forward in the eight-month-old talks after the secretary of state’s return to Washington.
Kerry’s decision to declare a time-out could be an attempt to pressure Israel and the Palestinians to soften their entrenched positions but, should that fail, it might mark the beginning of the end for his signature diplomatic initiative.
By stepping away for now, Kerry is reminding the parties that he can ill-afford to focus endlessly on a fruitless Middle East peace process when other pressing international issues like the crisis in Ukraine demand more of this attention.
Abandoning the peace effort, however, also has its risks. It could deal another blow to Obama’s credibility in the Middle East, where he already faces criticism for a tepid response to Syria’s civil war and to the military’s takeover in Egypt.
“There’s tremendous upheaval in the region and internationally right now. Do you want to add to it?” asked Dennis Ross, Obama’s former top Middle East adviser. “We don’t need to see something we’ve been investing in collapse.”