News / Middle East

Can New Secretary of State Bring Peace to Israel and the Palestinians?

U.S. Senator John Kerry testifies during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing to be secretary of state, Washington, January 24, 2013.
U.S. Senator John Kerry testifies during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing to be secretary of state, Washington, January 24, 2013.
Cecily Hilleary
More than 40 years ago, U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers proposed a plan for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and since then, more than a dozen of his successors have worked to negotiate peace between the two sides and failed. 

John Kerry, confirmed and sworn in as secretary of State this week, plans to give it another try. During his confirmation hearings, Kerry warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it would be disastrous if the two sides were unable to negotiate a so-called “two-state solution” creating a separate and sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel.

But given the political and diplomatic situation in the Middle East and Washington, is there any reason to believe Kerry can succeed where so many of his predecessors have failed?

Domestic Impediments

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, left, walks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Special Middle East Peace Envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, behind center, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010.Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, left, walks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Special Middle East Peace Envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, behind center, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010.
x
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, left, walks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Special Middle East Peace Envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, behind center, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, left, walks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Special Middle East Peace Envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, behind center, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010.
Kerry’s pledge not to “step back” from his commitment to Israel and the Palestinians echoed that of President Barack Obama, who in his 2009 “New Beginnings” speech in Cairo promised to “personally pursue” a two-state solution.  Today, that outcome is looking remote. 

Ori Nir is spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, Americans for Peace Now.  He says outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. special peace enjoy George Mitchell made serious efforts on behalf of the Obama Administration to bring parties back to the table.  “What happened is that Obama encountered pushback both from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israeli side and to an extent from the Palestinians," he said.

In addition, says Nir, the U.S. leader came under resistance domestically from interest groups inside the United States who “were aligned with the right and extreme right in Israel and were protective mainly of the [Israeli West Bank] settlement enterprise.”

Natan Sachs is a Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and is not confidant Kerry will be able to make any real headway.

“As far as we can tell, Senator Kerry appears eager to try and move this forward and perhaps make this his legacy issue.  Since the White House is where most decisions are made at the end of the day, a grand approach such as we saw at the beginning of the Obama Administration is unlikely,” Sachs said. 

Sachs says most of Obama’s advisers caution the president against any new peace initiative at a time when his plate is so full, both with domestic issues like the economy and foreign policy issues such as Iran and Syria. 
 
That said, no one is betting against another U.S. push on the diplomatic front. 

“At the end of the day, there is still a necessity in most people’s view to partition this land—whether  it’s done through a full-fledged peace process or whether it’s done by very different means is another question, and I don’t know how it’s going to be done yet,” Sachs said.

Current Impasse

For years, both Israelis and Palestinians have said they want peace, but have blamed the other side for the impasse. In September, 2001, the Palestinian Authority began seeking recognition as a state at the United Nations, something Israel had long opposed.  A month later, the so-called Quartet—the U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russia--proposed renewed peace talks, but these failed to materialize over the issue of Israeli settlements.

In January 2012, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jordan but made no progress toward restarting negotiations. Also in January of last year, the Palestinians won non-member observer state status in the United Nations. Hours later, Israel announced plans to build a new settlement in the contentious E-1 zone east of Jerusalem, an action that the US called “counterproductive.”

Then, in November of last year, Israel was involved in an eight-day battle with Hamas because the militant Palestinian group continued firing rockets at Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip region it controls.

Complicating matters are the results of the recent Israeli election, which saw gains by the religious nationalist right. One beneficiary of those results was Political newcomer Naftali Bennett, founder of the Bayit Yehudi Party. He is calling for Israel to annex what is known as “Area C,” comprising roughly 60 percent of the West Bank, and opposes a Palestinian state in what he refers to in Biblical terms as Judea and Samaria. 

Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, gestures in front of supporters at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 23, 2013.Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, gestures in front of supporters at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 23, 2013.
x
Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, gestures in front of supporters at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 23, 2013.
Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, gestures in front of supporters at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 23, 2013.
Another political newcomer, Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid, says he believes in a two-state solution, if only to prevent the Palestinians living in Israel from becoming more than a minority population. He rejects Palestinian demands for sovereignty over part of East Jerusalem to serve as capital of a new Palestinian nation.


Now what?

Despite the difficulties, Ori Nir still thinks a peace agreement is possible while Kerry is secretary of state.

“Kerry comes in with all the credentials and with all the background to be able to do the right thing… He knows the importance of Israeli-Palestinian peace for America’s national security agenda,” Nir said.

Nir joins other voices who have called for Mr. Obama to take a greater role in the peace process and for him to appoint former President Bill Clinton as a special envoy and negotiator for Middle East peace.
 
Beyond that, Nir says the U.S. should come out publicly with its own framework and agenda for peace talks. He also believes President Obama should speak directly to Israelis, as he did to Arabs in Cairo in 2009.
 
“Explaining to them [the Israelis] what’s at stake, what the U.S. can do, what will happen to Israel if it does not pursue peace—that could have an incredibly important impact,” Nir concludes.

Sachs is less optimistic.  “The peace process as we knew it is already over.  It has been over for some time,” he said, adding that any coalition Prime Minister Netanyahu pulls together I Israel will likely be too polarized to make any significant gains toward peace.

As for the Palestinians, Sachs says, the Palestinian Authority—and Palestinian society itself—remains deeply split, making any movement on that side of the conflict remote.

You May Like

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Frank Goodman Sr
February 03, 2013 12:41 PM
USA could have a break through on all fronts if we support the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people either as a separate state or as citizens of Israel. So long as we defend the illegitimate claims on Palestinian land and the nuclear status of Israel against the peace in the Middle East, there will be no peace or safety in that place. We are proving that Iran needs a nuclear capability rather than showing that they do not. Palestine needs a friend to human rights of Palestinians for them to advance their own legitimate human rights. We cannot come to every meeting as a wolf in sheep's clothing.


by: Rooster
February 01, 2013 11:12 PM
Several other major Countries dictate in the background, what happens here such as Egypt, Iran, Russia, Syria. Consequently the resolvement is incredibly difficult and protracted.


by: Matilda Smith from: Ohio
February 01, 2013 10:39 PM
Israel and the US are one and the same - both are so interrelated and so inter-weaved... Israel is part of the American heartland... and I am so proud of them... they are Gods beloved.!!!

In Response

by: Frank Goodman Sr
February 03, 2013 11:23 PM
No. My state only has two Senators. Israel has over 50. My two Senators vote for Israel. My representative votes for Israel and my President kiss their ***. So does the Governor and my state legislature. So it is not true that Israel and US are the same. America moves for human rights, though we move slowly. We have a Declaration of Independence in effect before we surrendered to Zionism. We defeated Fascism, Nazism, and Communism before we surrendered to Zionism. We have women's rights, black rights, even a black president (Color him Israel).


by: Tothian from: Heroes Network
February 01, 2013 5:32 PM
The United States must stand with Israel.

-Tothian

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid