John Kerry's Middle East Trip Won't Bring Peace, But It's a Good Start


As political unrest continues in Egypt, civil war drags on in Syria, and Tunisia is still reeling from the assassination of opposition leader Mohammed Brahmi, Secretary of State John Kerry trudges onward in his tour of the region, most recently stopping in Pakistan to discuss drone usage and fighting extremism.

Kerry's most significant stop was Israel, where he hoped to facilitate the rebooting of talks between Israel and Palestine over a possible two-state solution. Kerry went so far as to say that he would like to have a solution in place in nine months' time, with talks scheduled to begin two weeks from now.

It's an ambitious goal to set, but it's unlikely that anything substantial will come to fruition by the soft deadline Kerry has put in place, especially since there is a split among the Palestinian leadership over such negotiations. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a major wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, has come out against the renewed talks, stating that the decision was a unilateral one made by President Mahmud Abbas and the presence of the United States as mediator shows bias. Kerry has selected former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to play a "facilitator" role in the newest round of talks, a task he is familiar with given his prior experience on the issue.   

The timing of restarting the talks seems odd, given the current climate of the region and the importance of more pressing issues in other countries. Perhaps the motive behind Washington's latest push in the Israel-Palestine feud is the hope that an agreement on a two-state solution would both calm the rest of the region significantly and give the United States more wiggle room to act on other matters in the Arab world. It's much more of a low-risk high-reward plan than, say, arming the rebels in Syria or picking a side in Egypt. If that's the case, then it's a shrewd move on Washington's part in that it doesn't risk much, but the payoff could be significant down the road.

But Kerry won't bring peace to the Middle East. Kerry's trip is specifically avoiding the hotspots in the region, areas where Washington doesn't want to get in over their heads (and rightfully so). The civil war in Syrian will continue to rage on and Egypt will continue to go through growing pains as it tries to establish a functioning political system while Kerry and the State Department remain content to stay on the sidelines. However, should Kerry reach out to incoming Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in a gesture to start up direct talks with Iran, that would be a promising start to bringing peace in the region.