Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinians (though not, importantly, Hamas) have tentatively agreed to resume the first direct peace talks since 2010. Already, this agreement has generated praise and criticism, despite the fact that very few of its details are actually known. Already, there is speculation as to who will be on Kerry’s peace-making team. Already, not four days after the announcement, pessimists and optimists are penning articles predicting the outcomes of the entire negotiations process.
Then we found out that this happened.
It’s at times like these that the foreign policy community might benefit from collectively stepping back and taking a deep breath.
The reality is this: little is known about what if anything was actually agreed to. Some prisoners might be released but we don’t know how many or when. There was almost certainly some discussion of borders, though again we can only speculate about who promised what.
In the end, we should be surprised that there was any announcement concerning the talks at all. On face value, none of the political players involved have much to gain by engaging in serious negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu is barely able to maintain control over an increasingly unruly cabinet at a time when domestic Israeli politics are so chaotic that even the election of the Chief Rabbi has become bitter. At the same time, President Abbas faces his own domestic challenges and may not speak for enough of the Palestinian people to be able to legitimately offer or accept a deal for peace. Clearly, this isn’t an ideal time for talking about solutions…
But is there or will there ever be a good time to make peace? Given the regional environment, it’s hard to imagine how an opportune moment could possibly arise on its own. It seems that Sec. Kerry has realized that, contrary to the claims of some, the time for the two-state solution (or any solution for that matter) isn’t running out – time has to be made for it.
Sec. Kerry is attempting to create an opportunity for peace talks where one didn’t previously exist. This is certainly an innovative approach – one that I imagine will confuse and confound the majority of us as it takes shape. So rather than heap praise or scorn on every development in this process, let’s try to understand the process so that we can actually recognize success or failure when it happens.
Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.