President Obama is not the only important diplomatic figure in Israel this week. Secretary of State John Kerry is also there, but seemingly in a more important capacity. While the President is on more of a press tour, Secretary Kerry appears doing all the dirty work as he tries to restart peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Kerry’s arrival in Israel on Tuesday afternoon, a day before Obama lands, was somewhat unusual in that his staff did not reveal his schedule to the media. At a press conference in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland only said Kerry would “have a meeting or two, in preparation for the president’s arrival” and that the “schedule was being worked out.”
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Kerry intends to put the Arab League peace initiative, proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, back on the table for Israel and the PA. According to that plan, Arab nations would recognize and make peace with Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 armistice lines, an agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, and acceptance of the formation of an independent Palestinian state.
While these efforts have become a must for United States presidents, relatively little has ever been accomplished with American mediation. Moreover, President Obama is going to have an especially uphill battle, given his low approval rating in Israel and his ever-declining support among Palestinians. Both sides also seem apathetic towards another plan set forth by another American.
Top Palestinan negotiator Saeb Erekat said Tuesday night that there was no need for Obama to bring a new initiative to the region, nor was it necessary to arrange a summit meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas. “The only thing needed is to set a clear timetable for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders,” Erekat told al-Arabiya. Erekat was quoted on Wednesday by Israel Radio saying that the new Israeli government, sworn in on Monday, was formed in order to destroy the principle of a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.
Hopefully Kerry will be able to work around all these variables. At the end of the day, he is still a member of a very unpopular administration (and country) in that part of the world.