Ky. Voices: Kerry facing rough terrain in new Mideast peace talks

Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst and author of various books on the region.
Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst and author of various books on the region.

Despite cascades of failure for 50 years, U.S. presidents and secretaries of state have strived, if not assertively, to find some resolution to the conflict that both Israel and Palestinians, with the acquiesce of Arab states, would agree to accept.

None of the negotiations were fruitful, although it is alleged that Bill Clinton came close in 2000.

So why is Secretary of State John Kerry at it again?

I see four major developments in the past decade that suggest why the U.S. thinks meaningful progress might be possible:

■ Washington has indicated the vast shale oil and gas in the U.S. and Canada will allow the U.S. to be largely energy independent, maybe as early as 2020, meaning less or no dependence on Middle East oil. The U.S. will stay engaged in the Gulf Arab countries to protect global access to these vital world economic resources.

But the U.S. is alerting Israel to the possibility that it is no longer going to go to war on massive scales such as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, that the U.S. would be reluctant to engage in full scale war against not just Arab countries but even Iran.

This would be particularly so if Israel adheres to its current policies of relentless expansion into the West Bank foreclosing any possibilities of a two-state solution for the West Bank. Kerry himself has said that two more years of massive settlements would mean "that it is all over."

■ Kerry also has to be concerned that resisting forces in the Middle East and North Africa are growing. An indication of the challenges are the temporary closures of 21 U.S. diplomatic posts in Middle East and North Africa to protect them from potential assaults.

Many Middle East analysts think that it is already "all over" with regard to the West Bank, where there are now 650,000 Jewish settlers, including the metropolitan areas of Jerusalem. But in a glimmer of hope for the negotiations, Arab countries contesting Israel are in complete disarray: civil war in Syria, near civil war in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan on the brink of collapse, and low-intensity civil war in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. T

he Gulf Arab states are under duress and the major one, Saudi Arabia, is aligned with the U.S. and depends on it for protection from Iran's challenges. Of course, a U.S.-Israel attack on Iran would reduce some of Saudi Arabia's concerns. But it also means that the Arab Gulf states are incumbent on Washington's wishes with regard to the planned negotiations.

■ The Palestinians have few choices. Even if Palestinians deemed negotiations "successful," they would still be confined to 38 percent of the West Bank's 2,250 square miles. Israel would control the ingress and egress to the West Bank and Gaza, dominate its water resources and electric grid, and Israeli armed forces would surround the "state."

The Palestinians may have to settle for such an entity; the alternatives would be enfoldment into an Israel-controlled apartheid state, ethnic cleansing and selective expulsion.

■ That leaves Israel. Even if the Netanyahu government does negotiate, even with feigned interest, the right-wing pro-settler political parties, such as the Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett, the current minister of Industry, Trade and Construction, will still oppose negotiations. In charge of building Jewish settlements in the West Bank, he recently said, "I have killed many Palestinians, and there is no problem with that" — which adds to Kerry's, not to mention the Palestinians', concerns.

Kerry hopes to offset the stridently anti-Palestinians in the Knesset by appointing Martin Indyk, a former two-time US ambassador to Israel (1995-97) and (2000-2001), former head of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the co-founder of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank that he headed before becoming director of policy-making at the Brookings Institute's Saban Center.

Indyk is known as an ardent Jewish nationalist but he is said to favor a two-state solution so as to keep Israel a Jewish state. If Israel annexes the West Bank and rules it as an apartheid state, he fears that it will be the end of Zionism.

The dilemma for the Palestinians is the prayer by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, "God grant us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference." Good luck, Kerry.