x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

No time for US to pull the plug on peace talks

America has a responsibility to continue pushing for a Middle East peace formula.

American politicians have been urging and facilitating negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis for decades, and yet the goal of a Middle East peace agreement seems further away than ever. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has all but admitted defeat in the latest round, saying on Friday that it was time for a “reality check” and warning that the US would evaluate whether to continue to take part.

It is not difficult to understand the frustration felt by Mr Kerry and US president Barack Obama, since both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have changed the rules of engagement on many occasions. As The National said last week, it is Israel that has the most to gain from dragging out the peace process. The more settlements it builds on occupied territory, the harder it will be for there to be a contiguous and autonomous Palestine. Even while peace talks have been underway, Israel has greenlit further settlements and delayed the agreed release of Arab prisoners.

To his credit, Mr Kerry has been earnest in his endeavours, conducting exhaustive shuttle diplomacy for the past eight months. Even so, it is premature for him to say that he cannot continue to allow the issue to occupy his time.

Successive American administrations have been inconsistent in their efforts to broker peace in the Middle East. In the 36 years since Jimmy Carter surprised the world with the Camp David Accords – which ultimately produced mixed results – every US leader has wanted to add a peace treaty to his list of achievements. But Mr Obama, no doubt cognisant of how previous negotiations have unravelled, put the issue in the “too hard” basket during his first term in office. That he has revisited it now is presumably because he hopes to gain some traction for his Democratic Party colleagues in the November midterm elections and to enhance his own reputation before he leaves office in January 2017.

While the US has been and remains a valued ally to the UAE, it has not served the broader region well over the past decade. The fallout from its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to be felt long after American troops depart; it has been behind the pace on the situation in Egypt; and it has done too little too late on the Syrian crisis. Despite Mr Obama’s stated “pivot to Asia”, the Americans have unfinished business in the Middle East and it behoves Mr Kerry to keep plugging away at the peace negotiations.