It was only a few weeks ago that we were marveling at John Kerry’s fortitude — intestinal and other — in making trip after trip to Israel and the West Bank to help revive the peace process. It is and remains a daunting task to bridge the gap between the Palestinians, living under a divided leadership without either the power or will to make peace, and the Israelis, who have a governing coalition not exactly making uniform statements about the wisdom of a two-state solution these days.
“Good for him,” we thought as Kerry tried to capitalize on the boost given him during a springtime presidential trip in which Israelis were made to feel like they had an American ally that thoroughly understood their decades-long frustration with a fruitless pursuit of peace. But as things have continued to devolve in the region with Egypt now staring into the abyss and Syria having already fallen in, the rest of us looking on are getting a little skittish about Kerry’s Rudy-esque quest.
The idea that Israeli-Palestinian peace or even significant progress on that front will restore America’s standing in the region and make everything else easier is said to be dead. But if that’s the case (and with so much else requiring American attention), why is Kerry putting American prestige on the line for such an elusive task?
Former administration officials defend that conviction. Mr. Kerry’s focus, they say, makes sense precisely because of the chaos elsewhere. With little leverage over Egypt and deep reluctance about intervening in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one place that the United States can still exert influence, and perhaps even produce a breakthrough.
“You don’t have instability between the Israelis and Palestinians right now,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East. “But if you don’t act, there’s a risk that the Palestinian Authority will collapse, leaving a vacuum. And if we know one thing about vacuums in the Middle East, they are never filled with good things.”
Resuscitating the peace process, he said, is also vital to Jordan, which is reeling from the wave of refugees from Syria and can ill afford a new wave of Palestinian unrest in the neighboring West Bank.
This is important to consider because as we ask aloud if things could get worse in the Middle East right now, we know they obviously could. But…more than what’s being described as a delusional, doomed effort by Kerry are the implications of such a high-profile project that seems destined for noble failure at best. (It doesn’t help that the article I quoted above was headlined “Chaos in Middle East Grows as the U.S. Focuses on Israel.”)
It’s sad that we’ve come to a moment where we find ourselves lobbying against the efforts to bring the two sides together, especially given the importance of the task to American and world interests and especially given that the window on the two-state solution is closing.
But if these efforts fail — not for lack of moxie on Kerry’s part, but because of, y’know, history and stuff — there will be consequences to having made this issue so big.