Israel and the Palestinians Have Launched a Mutual Charm Offensive on Kerry

Both sides know the chances of a breakthrough are slim, but neither side wants to be the one Kerry blames for failure.

I wrote a profile in Haaretz last Friday about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his efforts to reignite the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, where I mentioned that "Kerry has a lot of good intentions and a real sense of mission" and that "he truly wants to make peace in the Middle East," but in practice "looks like a naive and ham-handed diplomat who has been acting like a bull in the china shop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

A couple of American sources told me Kerry read the article and wasn't too pleased – to say the least.

Kerry will return to the region on Thursday for what will be his fourth visit in a series of attempts to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Both sides seem full of optimism in the run-up to his visit, as if they were competing to see who could shower the most praise on the U.S. secretary of state. Jerusalem and Ramallah both know that the chances of a breakthrough are slim, but they also want to make sure they're not the side that Kerry blames for failure.

After meeting with Kerry in Washington on Friday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat lauded Kerry's efforts in a speech Monday at the United Nations in New York. He said Kerry "is keeping things [close to] his chest" and that "He likes to work very, very, very below the radar and grow things like mushrooms. … He is not going to wait for years or months, actually; he's working very hard."

Erekat's speech was revealing in that it shed light on just how much time and energy Kerry is spending on personally dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue. Erekat said he has met with Kerry three times in Washington over the last three months, in addition to the five meetings Kerry has held with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Istanbul, Amman and Riad. Erekat added that he, Abbas and Kerry speak on the phone at least once a week.

"Kerry knows the Palestinians and the Israelis through and through," Erekat said, adding, “We are exerting every possible effort in order to see that Mr. Kerry succeeds. No one benefits more from the success of Secretary Kerry than Palestinians, and no one loses more from his failure than Palestinians."

A day after Erekat's speech, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, also praised Kerry in the press. “We really do appreciate his efforts and we admire his stamina. We are committed to working with him," Oren, who is slated to arrive in Israel for Kerry's visit, told the BuzzFeed website.

Oren declined to comment in the article about Haaretz's report Tuesday that Kerry had called to reprimand him last week for the planned legalization of four West Bank outposts. Oren did, however, make a point of calling Kerry "a great listener" who "processes information quickly and very intelligently."

"I think he has a good understanding of the issues," Oren said. "There’s almost nobody he hasn’t known for a long time [in Israel]. These are longstanding relationships.” 

Reuters