Kerry at Mideast corner of optimism and skepticism
May 23rd, 2013
12:38 PM ET

Kerry at Mideast corner of optimism and skepticism

By Elise Labott, reporting from Jerusalem

If there is one thing Israelis and Palestinians can agree on, it's that John Kerry doesn't lack enthusiasm.

Arriving in Israel on Thursday on his fourth trip since taking office, the secretary of state seems determined that shuttle diplomacy will be enough to coax Israelis and Palestinians into restarting long-stalled talks.

Kerry has made it clear the Israeli-Palestinian issue will be the centerpiece of his tenure as America's top diplomat and hopes solving it will be his legacy.

He has spent more time on this issue than any other, is in almost daily contact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas several times a week.

Kerry is confident he is the man to solve the conflict, now a half-century-old. Kerry feels the decades he has spent working on this issue and longstanding relationships with the regional leaders has earned him the trust needed to hammer home a deal.

But U.S. officials lament that Kerry still acts like a senator - mostly working the issue with input from only a few close aides and leaving the majority of the State Department's senior staffers out of the loop.

Even with the parties themselves, Kerry has been tight-lipped about his peace plan. But Israeli and Palestinian officials say he has begun to lay out broad strokes on how to get the parties back to the table.

The package Kerry is working on is said to include confidence-building measures by both sides aimed at creating a more fertile climate for talks.

In addition to a political framework for restarting negotiations and security guarantees for Israel, Kerry is also trying to increase economic development and private investment in the West Bank.

All sides recognize this as a key aspect for the creation of a Palestinian state and Palestinians have long complained that Israeli control over the West Bank, with its military check points and travel restrictions, has been the main impediment to their economic growth.

Arab states are also heavily involved in Kerry's strategy, who was recently able to persuade the 22-member Arab League to reintroduce a decade-old peace offer to Israel with new incentives to sweeten the deal - a significant development given the absence of peace talks in more than four years.

Neither side doubts Kerry's good intentions and his clear sense of mission. What is missing is a tangible progress as a result of Kerry's efforts, and faith those efforts will bear fruit.

More importantly, neither Israelis nor Palestinians have matched Kerry's enthusiasm with actions that indicate they are serious about renewing the peace process.

Before sitting down with Kerry on Thursday, Netanyahu acknowledged the American's efforts, telling him, "You've been working at it a great deal."

"It's something I want. It's something you want. It's something I hope the Palestinians want as well," Netanyahu said. "And we ought to be successful for a simple reason: When there's a will, we'll find a way."

Kerry returned the praise for the Israeli leader, thanking him for the "seriousness" with which he is approaching a possible resumption of talks.

Yet last week Kerry had to phone Netanyahu to voice U.S. concern at Israel's plan to legalize four unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank.

American officials point to Israeli restraint in recent weeks from issuing new bids for Jewish settlement construction as a gesture to the Palestinians in advance of talks.

But the government continues to approve plans for new homes in certain settlements as part of previous agreements. The Palestinians have said they will not return to the table while Israel continues to build.

They also insist Israel releases Palestinian prisoners and accept the pre-1967 border as the contour of a future Palestinian state before talks can begin.

Israeli officials say Palestinian preconditions call into question Abbas' seriousness about negotiations.

"The Palestinians are on negative automatic pilot," one senior Israeli official said. "John Kerry is doing some very good work, and we will be very disappointed if President Abbas doesn't pick up the ball."

But Palestinians consider these issues Israeli obligations that go the heart of the mistrust they have for Israeli intensions and unless they are met, talks would be pointless. They say Netanyahu wants negotiations, but is unwilling to make peace.

"What we are staying is give (us) negotiations that have credibility, meaning legality and bring Israel to compliance and we will negotiate," Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the PLO, told CNN.

"People see a lot of motion but haven't seen results yet. Palestinians have been twice bitten by all this motion without any substance without any results. The Palestinians are understandably extremely skeptical because the moment they see the U.S. administration willing to stand-up to Israel and Israeli violations then they will take these steps seriously," she said.

Palestinian officials say they are working on a "day-after" strategy if Kerry does not meet a June 7 deadline for introducing a proposal for talks. This strategy includes plans to seek membership in key international organizations.

Last September, the Palestinians won recognition from the U.N. General Assembly as a non-member state. This upgraded diplomatic status gives them access to U.N. bodies. Now Israel fears the Palestinians will seek membership in international agencies like the International Criminal Court, where it can press for war crimes charges against Israel.

None of this points to positive prospects for Kerry's diplomatic efforts. Kerry acknowledged the uphill battle Thursday at his meeting with Netanyahu.

"I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism; in some corridors, there's cynicism," he said. "And there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment. It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient, but detailed and tenacious, that we can lay out a path ahead that could conceivably surprise people, but certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace."

Kerry's words may seem well-worn and cliché to a war-weary region, but they should not be taken for granted.

After years of complaining that the United States was not fully invested in the peace process, Israelis and Palestinians now have an American secretary of state willing to devote considerable time and political will to solving the conflict. It remains to be seen whether the parties will seize upon his determination and do some of the hard work themselves to help him solve it.

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Roderick Leadford

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    March 6, 2021 at 1:53 pm | Reply
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    August 5, 2013 at 1:02 am | Reply
  3. andres

    This is pure fluff. Kerry has asked the Israelis to give up even more land than the 67 borders for peace. All concessions are going to the palestinians. Additionally Kerry has offered to build an international airport for the PA and to invest in the PA enconomy to increase its gdp 50% and to reduce unemployment to less than 8%. First and foremost the PA will never negotiate a settlement and then what the hel l are we doing cutting unemployement in pa when we have much more severe problems at home? This is not diplomacy shuttle or othewise, it is noting more that paying off the PA.

    Additionally, with the problems in Syria, Lybia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq, the last thing we should be doing is kow towing to the PA. Kerry is clearly out of his league here and if the president hopes that kerry can ensure the presidents place in history as a peace maker he is also deluded.

    May 28, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  4. swej

    There will be no peace agreement.

    May 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  5. Thinker23

    As long as the Palestinians (and other Arabs) are willing the war to continue it will continue and no "new approaches", radical or otherwise, will change this simple truth. If and when the Palestinians will produce leadership ABLE AND WILLING to recognize Israel, stop violence and ask for peace negotiations peace will become possible.

    Peace can only be achieved by a PEACE AGREEMENT. A peace agreement can only be made at PEACE NEGOTIATIONS. Peace negotiations can only become possible when BOTH SIDES ARE ABLE AND WILLING TO NEGOTIATE PEACE.

    It's that simple.

    May 27, 2013 at 6:28 am | Reply
  6. Jon Dolen

    See for a radical new approach to Mideast Peace

    May 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  7. Jon Dolen

    See for a radical new approach for Mideast Peace.

    May 26, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  8. massoud

    Time for some other Country to deal with the Headaches of the Middle East.

    May 26, 2013 at 1:10 am | Reply
  9. Hsfgj Jdgjk

    And the people that enforce this "INSAINE" reality are American Law svhool grads who went to some of the best schools in America to study the US CONSTATUTION.

    May 25, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      "And the people that enforce this "INSAINE" reality are American Law svhool grads who went to some of the best schools in America to study the US CONSTATUTION." - You've made 4 (FOUR!) mistakes in a single sentence that does not make much sense even after corrrecting the grammar. Obviously, you're not one of those "American Law school graduates" (or ANY school graduates)... and, as most of those lazy, uneducated losers out there you tend to blame someone else (in this case, "the Jew") for your own failures.

      After all, it's much easier to blame someone else than yourself, is not it? Unfortunately, blaming others will not help you a bit. The smart, capable, educated and hard working people (and many Jews among them) will continue to succeed and lazy, poorly educated losers will continue to blame them.

      May 27, 2013 at 6:22 am | Reply
      • andres

        word nazi alert

        May 28, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  10. Hsfgj Jdgjk

    I actualy got a letter that said this is the last letter you will get–and years later I have not gotten a single piece of mail from any human being–UNDERSTAND?

    May 25, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  11. Hsfgj Jdgjk

    To: Thinker23
    May 25th, 2013 8:23 am ET&–what I said is exactly what happened and what you are saying is wrong...WRONG...UNDERSTAND...BS...TOTAL BS. Your using lots of name calling just to mention one thing...just one of many things you do to ruin people who are forced/bullyed into living within an illiousion–it is not an ultamate sacrafice to be bullied into the margins so that you no longer are free. You can thank people like Valerie Jareed if you want but remember she is in the Whitehouse and she knows exactly what put her there and she did not do it with her brain (friend) .

    May 25, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      I can only repeat what I've said earlier: "the Jew" is smart, educated and hard working... YOU, however, are a racist. Almost all racists are not very smart, purely educated, lazy losers blaming others (in this case, "the Jew") for their own failures.

      May 27, 2013 at 6:12 am | Reply
  12. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    May 24, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Reply
    • andres

      Interesting point. i used to believe that the good ole USA was a peace loving country. In my lifetime (60+ years) we have fought only two wars worthy of a peace loving country. The Korean war and the Serbian war. The rest were noting more than adventurism and gross mistakes.

      May 28, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Reply
    • Lizzie

      You forgot to mention that the Russians also shot down a CIVILIAN AIRLINER over INTERNATIONAL WATERS killing all on board. You claim that the USS has killed over 1 million in Iraq without any proof, just throw out numbers. You blame the Shaw for all the ills of Iran, but you forgot that he brought Iran into the 20th century and the Ayatollah returned it back to the 15th century.

      May 29, 2013 at 11:39 am | Reply
      • andres

        Lizzie, if you are dredging up the past, how about the iranian civilian airliner the US shot down over the straights of hormuz? What is your point

        May 29, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  13. Richard Right

    Palestinian leaders are doing very,very well with the current status. Peace would greatly reduce their income.from abroad

    May 24, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  14. Gdrhu Hsrtuk

    Oh-ya they love to put you in cages as well.

    May 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  15. Gdrhu Hsrtuk

    All of this is done @ the highest levels of Gov. all the way down involving the "privet sector". They will also call you names.

    May 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  16. Gdrhu Hsrtuk

    Oh I forgot to mention they will take your health also.

    May 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  17. Gdrhu Hsrtuk

    I speak from these words from the USA as a fifth and sixth generation citizen who has spoken those oh so secret truths as I know others have been violated as well as a regular practice the practice of isolation intimidation alianation exploitation and rearangement reasingnment distraction and theift. I did not mention any service because at this point there is little left for me anyway even the memories have systematicaly been erased.

    May 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  18. Gdrhu Hsrtuk

    And why is all of this control only in the hands of the Jew.

    May 24, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      It's because "the Jew" is smart, educated and hard working... YOU, however, are a racist. Almost all racists are not very smart, purely educated, lazy losers blaming others (in this case, "the Jew") for their own failures.

      May 25, 2013 at 8:23 am | Reply
  19. Gdrhu Hsrtuk

    If my senator and my congressman are not allowed to help me why should they be alowed to work on behalf of someone else/anyone else?

    May 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  20. Gdrhu Hsrtuk

    if I can't have/make/talk-to real people in the real world why should you be able to know anyone.

    May 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  21. Gdrhu Hsrtuk

    Hey if I can't have email why should you have email if I can't have friends why should you have friends if I am not allowed to have family why should you be allowed to have family if I am not allowed have voice mail why should you be able to have voicemail if I can't have money why should you have money if I am not allowed to have a real job in the real world why should you be allowed to work. If everything I have ever had gets taken from me why should you have anything if I am not allowed to have mail why should you be able to steal mine if there are no secrets why do you have this secret?

    May 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  22. jonny

    Seems to be trying for sure but there is no hope for the whole region, as was stated above rampant corruption, violence, huge populations, no food no water, they will go on killing each other for a long time now and i really am beyond caring about the situation, LET THEM KILL EACH OTHER

    May 24, 2013 at 11:56 am | Reply
    • Jomama

      A lot of people feel the same as you ,see the posts above you, nothing that is constructive at all which is no help and just plain insane. Nurturing hate and harboring vendettas.There are a lot of Good Muslims but they have to live with haters who have no value on human life.The Syrian civil war, doesn't matter who wins. The rebels are fighting amongst each other and if they get in control it will be just the same. The only rule that works over there is the strong man type government. The Refugees are the ones being hurt badly because they have no say in nothing just trying to survive day to day. Middle east is a mess , in the west we are to busy pointing fingers.

      May 25, 2013 at 5:37 am | Reply
    • Jomama

      There is a few guys who post that you should follow. Theres George Patton 2, and follow I believe usmc 1371 he a little rough but speaks from his heart. Most of all Pete is great he got me thinking because his facts are solid because I always check . But he is a little hung up on republicans past a bit but it is true. But Pete most of all really got me thinking. Look objectively. Im not repub or dem and don't care because I think its redundant. Also this guy Thinker 23 is very educated. I know a lot of strange things and I don't follow politics that well but when it comes to environmental and geography and a lot of science that I know. Im a war vet and at one time I really did think like you are doing now.

      May 25, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Reply
      • Jomama

        One more thing don't answer johnsmith he is just nothing

        May 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  23. Mikie

    I wonder if Kerry will point to the true obstacle to peace. THE ILLEGAL SETTLEMENTS

    May 24, 2013 at 10:02 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Prior to 1967 there were no settlements and there was no peace.

      There are no settlements in Gaza today and there is no peace there as well.

      Further, "ILLEGAL" means "IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW" and there is no law prohibiting Jews from living in the West Bank but allowing Arabs to live there. This means that Jewish settlements there are no less "legal" than Arab settlements.

      Finally, if Israel decided to remove settlements in response to terrorism it would prove (correctly) to the Palestinians that terrorism works and that more terrorism would work even better and this means that removing the settlements would not diminish terrorism but would INTENSIFY it. To conclude, the true obstacle to peace is the Palestinians INABILITY and UNWILLINGNESS to stop violence, recognize Israel and NEGOTIATE a peace agreement.

      May 24, 2013 at 11:57 am | Reply
      • Jomama

        Yes Sir!

        May 24, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
  24. helenecha

    A diplomat who trusts that he can do the job as good as he expects is quite different from a diplomat who trusts that the others can do the job as good as he expects. Kerry is a diplomat who trusts he can do the job as good as he expects despite Netanyahu is optimistic.

    May 23, 2013 at 11:56 pm | Reply
    • Jomama

      This is off the subject. You talked about an apple a while back, in the Middle East, where populations are growing fast, the world is seeing the first collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the FAILURE of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 10,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them. Here is a new enemy and while everyone bickers and fights this will continue to grow [no pun] unchecked. Also north of you wheat rust is back and a certain someone had to stop exports. Now add this to the Middle east’s problems. This is not the future it’s happening right now. You are your own worst enemy.

      May 24, 2013 at 6:29 am | Reply
    • Jomama

      The fighting in the future will turn into something even more ugly it looks like. People better come to the table and start talking and making plans for a future.

      May 24, 2013 at 7:58 am | Reply
  25. Gdfgkh Jsfgdghj


    May 23, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Reply
  26. andres

    What Kerry does lack is an understanding of reality and that makes him a perfect Sec State for this administration to try to cement its place in history by making yet another worthless agreeement between Israel and PA. Had Jimmy Carter, Regan, Bush 1 and Clinton not intervened, this mess would have sorted itself out already.

    Obama should instead be looking to cement his place in history in areas where he can make a positive contribution. Starting with the economy.

    May 23, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      I'm sure that you understand the reality much better than the Secretary of State and his administration. It's a pity that you stopped short of telling us what should be the alternative to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

      May 23, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Reply
      • andres

        Until the PA comes to understand that negotiation means that they have to recognize Israels right to existence and to stop terrorising Israel there can be no peace. Do I have an alternaitve to the pa / israel problem? Absolutely not, but can you expect to make peace with someone whose very religion and existence demands that you be dead?

        While the adminstration no doubt has better access to information than I, I don't think that they are very well grounded in reality. Any head way that has been made between the pa and israel has been as a result of the US paying both alot of money to sign on the dotted line and then we continue to pay out even though they do not behave.

        Do you really think that carter's attempt worked? 40 years later they are still at it. Kerry is going down the same path. Repeating the same actions and expecting different results is insane.

        May 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
    • michael sasen

      dialog and open qindows are all that matter and are craftily being secured.Nice job senator.....

      May 23, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Reply

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