Secretary of State John Kerry and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority met 34 times over nine months of negotiations. Mr. Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nearly twice as many times. Israeli and Palestinian representatives were summoned for talks in Amman, Jordan; Davos, Switzerland; London; Munich; Paris; Rome; and Washington. Yet, the peace talks still ended in disarray.
The peace talks between Israel and Palestine resumed in July 2013 after a three-year stalemate in which no progress was made. Last July, Mr. Kerry set the lofty goal “to achieve a final-status agreement over the course of the next nine months.” In the initial phases of the talks, Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in four batches, and the Palestinians promised not to leverage the observer-state status they won at the United Nations in 2012 to join international agencies and conventions.
But then, Mr. Netanyahu refused to restrain construction in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements and about 13,000 new units were built. Furious over the settlement building, Mr. Abbas refused to respond to ideas Mr. Kerry’s team promoted as a framework to guide further negotiations. In the last few weeks, Mr. Kerry and his team produced a new package of incentives aimed at forging an agreement that included Palestinian autonomy for planning and zoning in Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank. The talks still collapsed several days later.
Both sides were blamed for the failure of the talks for taking steps that undermined the process. Mr. Kerry is also taking some blame for the collapse of the peace talks. Sources familiar with the process claimed that Mr. Kerry left Israeli and Palestinian leaders with disparate understandings of the proposed agreements, which led to blow ups between the parties. Mr. Kerry was also accused of creating a new layer of internal negotiations that slowed events down toward the end.
Mr. Kerry learned the hard way that Washington cannot force an agreement if the parties are unwilling to come to an agreement. An American official knowledgeable about the negotiations and speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “It’s part of the pathology of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship that what one side demands the other side has a predisposition to reject. It’s one of the reasons that it’s so difficult to sustain negotiations, never mind get an agreement.”