U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in a tough spot. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have taken mutually exclusive positions that threaten to derail the peace talks in which he's invested so much time and credibility.
Israel is refusing to adhere to a March 29 deadline to release the last 26 of 104 Palestinian prisoners it promised to free to get the negotiations going. The Israelis say that pledge was contingent on progress in the talks, which are coming to a U.S.-imposed deadline at the end of April with no deal in sight. Israel insists that before it releases the prisoners, the Palestinians agree to extend the negotiations.
No way, say the Palestinians. They argue that the prisoner release is a done deal and if the Israelis don't honor it, they can't be trusted to honor a peace accord. Palestinian negotiators say they will withdraw from talks if the Israelis don't release the prisoners on schedule.
Kerry, who is trying to mediate, can't side with one party without losing the other. Yet if he doesn't solve the impasse, his whole effort is likely to collapse.
Thus did Kerry, who had been traveling with President Barack Obama in Europe, fly urgently to Jordan yesterday so he could meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas today. This meant the secretary missed out on meeting Pope Francis. And yet the meeting with Abbas, apparently, produced nothing.
My advice for Kerry is to stand down. Rejoin the president's entourage in Riyadh tomorrow and help him deal with the tensions in U.S.-Saudi relations.
This isn't really a problem Kerry can solve. Yes, it's true, if the Israelis and Palestinians can't work out this one inconsequential thing, a year of tireless effort trying to resolve their truly significant conflicts will go to waste.
At the same time, if the Israelis and Palestinians can't work out this inconsequential thing, they aren't prepared to resolve their truly significant conflicts. In which case, it's better a year wasted than more.
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