Kerry, Palestinians and Israelis -- Anything Beyond PR?

07/22/2013 11:33 am ET | Updated Sep 21, 2013

John Kerry finally did it, but what is it really that he did? Announcing a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks has become a ritual of Middle East politics, but resuming talks and achieving a final, lasting peace treaty are two different things. This blog expressed skepticism about Kerry's initiative, and it is still not the time to swallow the words...

It was in Annapolis, five years ago, when George Bush, outflanked by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, announced ceremoniously the resumption of such peace talks, then it was the turn of the Obama Administration to announce it, so caution is of the essence here. This is not to be cynical, as the efforts of the Secretary and his team were motivated by the sincere desire to see some movement ahead, however it is simply required to remember that we deal with a volatile region, where events taking place right now, in Egypt and Syria, have a much greater potential to affect the overall situation in the Middle East, than the impending Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In face of such events, leaders instinctively choose caution, waiting to see the fall out and implications of what is happening around them. In fact, there is nothing new in the Syrian front, where the civil war is dragging on without a decision, but the change in Egypt can prove to be of major consequence, and positive one. Hamas, the enemy of peace, the adversary of the Palestinian Authority over control of the Palestinians, seems to have suffered a strategic defeat. The Egyptian military has targeted the Palestinian terrorists as an enemy, and operation Eagle 2, just starting in Sinai, is aimed at the Islamists there who are considered Hamas allies, and at the same time, the Egyptian military imposed an effective siege on Gaza. These are good news to both Netanyahu and Abbas, as every weakening of the enemies of peace is an incentive to those who want to promote and advance it. Hamas has earned its loss, as the organization allied itself with Morsi's Administration, encouraged attacks on Egyptian security personnel in Sinai, and seemed to act as if the Egyptian army is its auxiliary force. Not really...

So many reports about the Egyptian coup indicate, that the generals in Cairo are going to teach the Gazan terrorists a bitter lesson, the day of reckoning is looming. How all that will affect the Israeli-Palestinian talks remains to be seen, but surely, this development is creating better, more conducive conditions for success.

Secretary Kerry seems to have learnt from past mistakes of the process in general, and those committed by the Obama Administration in particular, so the talks were resumed without insisting on any pre-conditions.

But is it really the case? According to Palestinian sources ,they have an American undertaking that the talks will lead to the pre-1967 lines. Netanyahu clearly denies that.

The question is who tells the truth? Netanyahu cannot possibly survive politically if this is the case. Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett and the Likud own radical right-wingers will never agree to that. While in theory, Netanyahu can split Likud, form a coalition with the Labor Party and somehow maintain himself in power, this is not going to be easy, perhaps impossible, a political fantasy...

It is also impossible to believe, that Abbas can mobilize his side behind him, even when Hamas is weakened, if he could not promise them that the endgame is the 1967 lines, including also in Jerusalem. So, while talks can start without an advanced commitment about the final outcome, they may not have too much chances of success when the time comes to deal with the real , big issues, exactly the same issues which until now precluded a final peace treaty. There is nothing new about that, and there are so many other thorny issues, such as refugees[on both sides], security arrangements, and the settlements.

It was reported in Israel, that Shimon Peres told Abbas, that settlers could be allowed to stay where they are, but live under Palestinian sovereignty. Interesting idea, though not so likely to be accepted....

What can provide some room for optimism is the Israeli readiness to release a certain, unspecified number of Palestinian detainees, as well as the obvious realization among Palestinians, that a resumption of the Intifada, something which was called for in the social media networks and never adhered to, is against their interests.

With that in mind, we can see that there is some incentive for both sides to open talks, a welcome development by all accounts, but the process requires much more than that in order to come to a successful conclusion. The set of circumstances which will make it possible is still not around. Kerry has much more work on his hands.