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Secretary of State John Kerry’s diligent efforts to relaunch Middle East peace talks aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are yielding little progress.
Since his appointment at the start of President Obama’s second term, Mr. Kerry has been engaged in virtually nonstop shuttle diplomacy, to enlist Israelis and Palestinians in an effort to settle their 65-year conflict. His campaign has included trips to the region and meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Acting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and others.
Neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders want to be seen telling Mr. Kerry no. Both parties receive large amounts of aid from the United States — Israel, more than $3 billion a year, and the Palestinians $200 million in humanitarian and other assistance.
Mr. Kerry has also suggested he is willing to undertake a major new effort to attract U.S. and other international private investment to the West Bank, to encourage Palestinian officials to join the talks. But he has had no luck with either side.
Israel’s Ministry of Housing and Construction announced last week that it had given final approval for 300 new homes in an Israeli settlement in disputed East Jerusalem. The residences would be in an area whose future would be discussed by the two sides if there were talks. The announcement’s timing and content obstructed Mr. Kerry’s efforts.
On the Palestinian side, the division between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza remains, despite Egyptian efforts to mend the rift. Mr. Kerry has not involved himself directly in efforts to achieve a unified Palestinian side with which Israel could negotiate. He might break through that particular barrier if he were willing to visit Gaza, which he has been unwilling to do.
Given the danger posed by the lack of peace talks, Mr. Kerry is correct to keep working to restore them. The peril is enhanced by the continued unrest on Israel’s borders, especially in Syria but also in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Americans should not underestimate the difficulty of Mr. Kerry’s task, given Israeli and Palestinian intransigence. The White House and Congress should support the secretary of State fully in his difficult mission.