To no one’s surprise — except possibly his own – John Kerry couldn’t get Israeli and Palestinian leaders to sit down with one another this week. He and Jordanian King Abdullah II had worked hard to get them to meet in Amman.
There is so little trust between the two leaders that Benjamin Netanyahu refused Mahmoud Abbas’ demand for a good faith release of prisoners in advance of any meeting. He feared the Palestinian leader would take his reward and either find another excuse for not honoring his side of the bargain by not showing up or make a token appearance and then walk out.
Abbas’s list of 127 Palestinians he demanded to be released included prisoners responsible for the deaths of 80 Israelis, according to Israeli media. He turned down Netanyahu’s offer to begin releasing prisoners only after the talks were underway.
The secretary of state insisted he’d made “real progress” during his 72 hours of shuttle diplomacy and said he’d be returning soon for a sixth try
He didn’t set a date but indicated it wouldn’t be until the two sides were on the verge of an agreement and he could close the deal to resume negotiations. He left aides behind to try to narrow the gaps, saying, “I know progress when I see it…and that is what will bring me back here.”
Bibi was quick to announce Israel is not the one “creating any barriers to renewed final-status negotiations,” and repeated his call for resuming talks “without delay and without preconditions.” But he does have his conditions: Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a long-term security presence in Palestinian areas.
Abbas stuck to his demands regarding settlement construction, borders and prisoners, adding a new condition: Israel must agree to his terms in writing. “Israeli sources believe Abbas is placing preconditions he believes Netanyahu will not be able to accept and then the blame for the failure falls on Israel,” reported the Israeli blog News Nosh.
Kerry said both leaders urged him to return soon; of course they did. What else could they say? Neither man wants to look like the guy standing in the way of peace. So far their enthusiasm is more rhetorical than substantive.
Netanyahu and Abbas both want to appear enthusiastic about making peace and supportive of the American attempt to restart talks not because they are ready and anxious to make peace but because each wants to avoid being blamed for the expected failure of Kerry’s mission.