x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Peace hopes dashed as Kerry leaves region

John Kerry's failed push for new Palestinian-Israeli talks leaves little room for optimism.

John Kerry flew away from the Middle East yesterday, with little to show for four days of energetic shuttle diplomacy. He claimed as he left that progress has been made, and that new Palestinian-Israeli talks are "within reach". But his latest effort, which generated a few days of hope that a difficult and uncertain process might at least begin, ended with even that timid hope unfulfilled.

That is not to say nothing has changed. If talks are not imminent, then the Israelis will surely now have to indicate what they intend to do. The world is growing steadily less tolerant of the Israeli occupation.

Certainly nobody can doubt the US secretary of state's zeal. This was his fifth visit to the region in less than six months since he took office, and it went on for four days. His alternating bilateral discussions with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, took so much time that he had to cancel his scheduled visit to the UAE.

The high priority Mr Kerry and his boss Barack Obama, the president, had put upon the reopening of talks is surprising because this push comes at a time when the Israelis show no appetite for real negotiations and the Palestinian side is in considerable disarray.

The setbacks of Mr Obama's first term, when special envoy George Mitchell made no breakthrough, should have taught the president prudence on the issue. And although Mr Kerry is still fairly new to his job, he is no novice about Middle Eastern realities. He knows that years of the "peace process" have produced no peace progress.

He knows that Mr Netanyahu has presided over the steady growth of West Bank settlements, changing the demographics there. Indeed, last week brought final approval for 69 new housing units in East Jerusalem and today 930 units in South Jerusalem are up for approval. The Israelis give lip service to talks, but actions are louder than words.

Mr Kerry also knows that the Palestinians are badly divided: Hamas is barely talking to Fatah, let alone the Israelis, and is internally divided on domestic issues, as shown by last week's abrupt resignation of Rami Hamdallah as Palestinian Authority prime minister.

Mr Kerry insists there is a future for negotiation, but as Israel's implacable settlement efforts slam the door on a two-state solution, the world's disapproval of the occupation will continue to grow.