Can John Kerry manage a Middle East miracle?

  • 10 January 2014
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US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a meeting in Saudi Arabia on January 5, 2014.
Image caption Has US Secretary of State been 'tamed' by Arab-Israeli peace negotiations?

John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East next week to continue attempts to broker a peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis. His self-imposed goal is to reach an agreement by April. If opinions in Israeli and Arab media are any indication, however, not many think he can find success where others have failed.

"The mission John Kerry has taken upon himself reminds one of a boy going out into the garden with a kite. The intention is good, the equipment suitable, but the wind refuses to lift the kite into the air," writes Nahum Barnea in Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth.

He continues:

Kerry wanted to reach a framework agreement that would put [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] on a path from which they cannot deviate. Meanwhile, this is not happening. The ambition is still there, but the objective is gradually shrinking. Assuming that Netanyahu is telling his ministers the truth, he will not have to sign the paper Kerry is devising. All Kerry is demanding at the moment from the two is that they commit not to publicly express any reservations about what the paper will say... Kerry came to tame and came away tamed.

Shalom Yerushalmi in Ma'ariv cites a recent Israeli opinion poll that shows 80% of the public does not think Mr Kerry will be successful. "It seems that the public is tired, disappointed and doubtful after seeing scores of American envoys and mediators passing through and coming out with nothing," he writes.

Even if Mr Kerry brokers an agreement, it will only be a "framework" for future negotiations - which will likely lead nowhere, writes Lior Akerman in the Jerusalem Post. "Kerry is using these meetings as an opportunity for great photo-ops of himself together with the Israeli and Palestinian representatives. The only significant result has been a rise in the number of terrorist attacks and violent incidents, to which IDF [Israeli Defence Force] then responds and which unfortunately usually results in additional deaths."

There are those who are more optimistic, though. "Kerry is not the problem, although he is not the solution either," writes Yoel Marcus in Ha'aretz. "He is no healer and will not heal. He's merely the catalyst for an opportunity to generate a regional agreement."

Meanwhile, in the Arab press, commentary is very clear on what needs to be a part of future negotiations. The Saudi paper Al-Watan editorialises:

The two-state solution which John Kerry has taken as the basis for a settlement between the two sides primarily depends on both sides accepting to divide Jerusalem into two parts: West Jerusalem will be Israel's capital, while the Palestinians have East Jerusalem as the capital of their own state. Should this condition not be fulfilled, the two-state solution will naturally collapse.

"The US secretary of state must realise that any kind of deal will not be viable or sustainable if it does not guarantee the non-negotiable rights of the Palestinian people: the right of return and to self-determination, as well as to the establishment of an independent state with holy Jerusalem as its capital," writes Nawaf Aboul-Hija in Oman's Al-Watan.

Outside of the region, the Economist is more optimistic that Mr Kerry is making some headway. "Rejectionists on both sides who quietly presumed that the process would collapse under its own weight now express alarm," it writes.

Mr Kerry has called the ongoing negotiations "not mission impossible" - which is hardly cause for celebration. Given the track record of his predecessors, however, "not impossible" may be enough for a glimmer of hope.

(From reports provided by BBC Monitoring)