If you have perused online for news, picked up a newspaper, or watched television over the past five days, you could easily be forgiven for concluding that the latest gambit for Israeli-Palestinian peace is six feet under.
Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion, "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction," applies perfectly to Secretary of State John Kerry's full-throated and tireless campaign for a Mideast peace settlement. The Israelis balk at releasing the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, as they agreed to do nine months prior, in order to extract a Palestinian commitment for an extension of peace talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) responds with a reaction (certainly not equal in the eyes of many Israelis) of his own by renewing his efforts at the United Nations. Israel retaliates to that move through additional settlements. And, nearly a week later, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announces to great fanfare in Gaza that the two major Palestinian factions are once again on track to create a national unity government. You could call this last "unhelpful" development another John Kerry "poof" moment.
To the naked eye, it certainly seems like further negotiations are dead. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, appearing on BBC, Fox News, and MSNBC on April 24 (he later appeared on CBS' Face the Nation and CNN's State of the Union last Sunday), declared that further talks with Abbas are "essentially buried" if the Hamas-PA national unity agreement is revoked immediately. A day later, President Obama seemed to agree with Netanyahu's prescription: "There may come a point," Obama said, "at which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives."
To many, that time is now. The process is pretty much dead, right?
Over the short-term, very possible. But over the long run, not necessarily. If there has been one constant in U.S. Middle East policy over the past two decades, even after the turbulence and political transformations that have occurred in the region over the last three years, it is Washington's propensity to stick itself in the middle of a diplomatic problem that the U.S. diplomatic community considers the crown jewel of the negotiating world. Since the UN partition plan in 1947, every American president, Democrat and Republican alike, has attempted to resolve what has at times been seen as an existential conflict between Arabs and Jews. There was Jimmy Carter's Camp David Agreement; George H. W. Bush's Madrid peace conference; Bill Clinton's Oslo Accords, Wye River Memorandum and and last-ditch parameters; George W. Bush's Road Map; and President Obama's 2010 and 2013-14 efforts. Notice that a big chunk of this history consisted of failure--generating much the same feeling of exhaustion that peace negotiators are experiencing right now. Particularly after President Clinton failed to bring Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to an understanding, a feeling of resignation covered Washington's diplomatic landscape, and questions again sprouted as to whether it was even possible for Israelis and Palestinians to live next to each other in peace and security.
But after each failure, the United States came back and tried again--however impossible the attempt seemed at the time. Assuming that Netanyahu and Abbas are unable to reconcile and extend talks past April 29, there is no reason to believe that the U.S. would break this historical pattern and simply give up on the process altogether. Indeed, as Secretary Kerry said on April 24, "[W]e will never give up our hope or our commitment for the possibilities of peace. We believe it is the only way to go."
However impossible the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum looks at the moment, the United States is too proud to let generations of hard work and billions of dollars in investment in the Palestinian Authority amount to a continuation of the status-quo ante. Just as the United States is the "indispensable nation," they also play the role of the "indispensable negotiator." Washington will not let that title go, particularly when U.S. intervention is what prompted the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate directly in the first place.