The One Move That Might Save Mideast Peace Talks

The Game Changer John Kerry Could Still Deliver

Sadat’s Heirs? Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi (left) sits next to Qatari Premier and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani.
Getty Images
Sadat’s Heirs? Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi (left) sits next to Qatari Premier and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published April 11, 2014, issue of April 18, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Whatever else might come of Secretary of State John Kerry’s tottering Middle East peace effort, it will leave behind an intellectual legacy in the form of a new addition to the lexicon of high-stakes diplomacy: “Poof.”

That’s the word that the secretary interjected into his April 8 Senate testimony, while narrating the missteps that led to the breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, to designate the precise moment when the process went kablooey.

It was a moment that observers around the world, the cynical ones, at least, had been awaiting with morbid anticipation since the talks began, like a movie audience waiting for the runaway train to crash. There were those who hoped Kerry knew what he was getting into, that he had serious grounds for believing the two sides could find common ground, if not in the nine months they’d agreed on then at least in some follow-up round. But as time went on that seemed less and less plausible. To paraphrase Kerry, a month went by, and then two months, and now — poof, we’re here.

In the end the big question wasn’t what the final peace agreement would look like, but who would be blamed when there wasn’t one. Israel looked like it was going to avoid getting stuck with the hot potato since it was the dispirited Palestinians who first indicated that they didn’t want to extend the talks past the April 29 deadline, while Israel seemed amenable.

On March 29, though, Netanyahu decided to please his restive right flank by withholding the fourth round of Palestinian prisoner releases he’d promised last year as a gesture to get the talks going. Things started to snowball. Abbas used the canceled prisoner release as an excuse to abandon his own pre-talks gesture by signing 15 United Nations conventions in the name of the sovereign state of Palestine that the General Assembly recognized in 2012.

That might have clinched the Blame Game in Bibi’s favor. But within hours of Abbas’s April 1 signing ceremony, Israel spoiled its own victory: Its housing ministry approved tenders for 708 housing units in the Gilo section of East Jerusalem, built on land Israel captured in 1967.

That was Kerry’s “poof” moment. Both sides, he conceded, had “wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful.” But he singled out Israel’s actions, skipping the prisoner release and issuing the tenders, as the breaking point.

The State Department later pointed out that Kerry didn’t mean to blame Israel. He’d called both sides “unhelpful.” Nobody was fooled, though. It was Israel that got “poofed.”

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.