Refusing to be dissuaded by history and the myriad naysayers who insist that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is impossible, Secretary of State John Kerry has taken up the pursuit of the Middle East’s holy grail.
While it may seem strange to refer to the grail — a product of Christian lore — in relation to negotiations between Jews and Muslims, peace in that volatile area has been every bit as elusive as when Crusaders went off in search of the grail in the Middle Ages.
Each American president since Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War has taken a swing at trying to reach an agreement, and their efforts have largely been for naught.
Jimmy Carter managed to broker what has so-far been a lasting peace between Egypt and Israel, and Bill Clinton helped bring to pass the Jewish state’s treaty with Jordan in 1994. But later in Clinton’s presidency, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat refused Israel’s generous offer to create a Palestinian state.
As for Kerry’s efforts in 2013, the smart money is saying they will lead to more frustration and a possible loss of American prestige. But one thing is certain: without active involvement by the United States, the peace process is going nowhere.
“It takes two to tango, but in the Middle East you need three,” said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to U.S. sponsorship of the talks that began recently and will resume in two weeks.
Kerry must be pretty darned persuasive. In addition to bringing the hawkish Netanyahu to the peace table, Kerry got Israel to agree to release 104 convicted terrorists —some of whom have murdered Israelis — as a goodwill gesture to lure the Palestinians to the talks.
There are obvious benefits for Israel and the Palestinians in coming to a peace agreement. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a longtime supporter of a two-state solution, and an independent nation of Palestine would be the beneficiary of generous American aid.
Security is the main concern for Netanyahu, and while the U.S. would ensure that Israel held a quantitative edge in military capability, the best guarantee of Israel security would be peace with its neighbors.
Netanyahu also knows that Israel in the long run cannot be a true democracy when the demographics of the occupied territories will eventually make Jews a minority in their own country. Freed from the burden of being occupiers, Israelis would also see more acceptance worldwide for their people and products.
The obstacles to peace are many and powerful. But we agree with John Kerry.
It’s certainly worth a try.