Seven Reasons for (Cautious) Optimism About Kerry's Mideast Peace Effort


In the days since Secretary of State John Kerry laid out the framework for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, some prominent experts have been listing all the reasons why this latest attempt to end the conflict is bound to end in failure.

Noted commentator Jeffrey Goldberg went as far as to call Kerry's effort "delusional."

Nobody would deny that the obstacles are formidable and nobody ever got rich betting on the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But some of the underlying conditions have changed, creating a spark of hope that this time could be different.

As the U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said:

Clearly there are good reasons to be skeptical after all that has happened in the past and we understand that. But there is also good reason for hope, there is a chance that this will succeed, and we should all support the courageous leaders who chose to embark on this path.

Here are seven reasons for cautious optimism:

1) These talks have been better prepared than previous efforts. Kerry has painstakingly laid the groundwork, setting out the parameters and the criteria, and his aides have been working to assuage Israeli fears on the security issue, setting in place arrangements that would protect Israeli civilians from attacks after a withdrawal from most of the West Bank.

2) The parties have agreed to stick to the talks for at least nine months and to negotiate in secret. Kerry himself is the only person authorized to comment on the ongoing talks -- and he says he will not be saying very much. That removes the danger that one or the other can just walk away the moment things start getting tough and minimizes the temptation to negotiate through the media or grandstand to their own constituencies. This time, they have the time and space to do real business.

3) The price of failure for both sides has risen sharply. In previous rounds, it has always been easier for the leaders of both sides to walk away without paying a political price than to make the tough concessions needed to reach an agreement. But now, both Israelis and Palestinians know that a host of very negative consequences could follow a failure. For the Palestinians, it could mean an economic meltdown, a possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the strengthening of Hamas. For Israel, it would mean unprecedented diplomatic pressure and growing isolation and the prospect of the worldwide boycott and disinvestment movement gaining serious traction. For both, it could mean a new Intifada with the tragic loss of life and economic damage that would entail.

4) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants to be the godfather of a Palestinian state and knows that this is his last chance. At age 78, Abbas would badly love to go down in history as the man who finally achieved statehood for his people. He knows that achievement would secure his place in history -- and he knows too that failure would leave him without good options, forced to turn to a decades-long strategy of trying to wear Israel down through diplomatic, economic pressure and demography.

5) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also feels the call of history. Recently, Netanyahu has begun speaking of the need for peace in a new way, defining it as a vital need to keep Israel's identity as a Jewish homeland and as a democracy. He knows that Jews will eventually be outnumbered on the land if there is no withdrawal from the West Bank and the world will not stand by and allow Israel to deprive millions of Palestinians of basic democratic rights. Netanyahu has seen his own Likud Party move to his right and knows that his future as party leader is questionable. Yet he sees the bleak future Israel is facing in the absence of a two-state solution and he retains the option to put himself at the head of a wide, pro-peace coalition that could push through a deal.

6) The Arab world, which in the past has acted as a break on Palestinians, inhibiting their ability to make concessions, is now fully behind the effort. The Arab League has pledged to recognize Israel if there is a deal and to help bolster the Palestinian economy. With the Arab world in turmoil, some players who in the past could have caused problems like Syria, are effectively neutralized.

7) John Kerry himself promises to be the most effective Mideast peace mediator since Henry Kissinger. Kerry has made this his signature issue and has the trust of both parties. He has carefully studied and learned from some of the mistakes of the past. He has the full support of President Obama who stands ready to intervene personally to bridge the final gaps if and when the parties get close to a deal. By appointing former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as his point man to the peace talks, Kerry has found a diplomat with long experience and with a web of crucial relationships both among Palestinians and Israelis, to deal with the day-to-day issues.

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