Kerry in Obama's Footsteps

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

President Barack Obama, who wasted four years in weak and barren efforts to restart the paralyzed peace process in the Middle East, is determined to waste no more time during his second - and last - term. After completing his trip to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman, his Secretary of State John Kerry has remained behind in the region to fill Obama's framework of words with concrete content.

Time is running out. What is not done this year, right after the U.S. presidential and congressional elections there and the Knesset elections here, may slip out of reach the closer the 2014 mid-term elections approach - and right after them the 2016 elections - and Obama's power will start to fade.

The new Israeli government is still stable and has yet to encounter turbulence. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are still in office and prevailing over a moderate atmosphere. Even the Hamas regime in Gaza is relatively restrained and has yet to recover from the blow it suffered in Operation Pillar of Defense. But all this can change. Therefore it is vital to take advantage of the window of opportunity for swift, fundamental and realistic actions.

Freezing construction in the settlements is important, but the test of the freeze is more in practice than in words. Obama's motives for wanting a freeze in settlement construction in 2009 were justified, but the implementation failed. Such a declaration now could lead to a long list of excuses to justify the deadlock. Therefore what is important is that the trend begin to show on the ground. In other words, it is the halt of the Israel expansion in the West Bank along with laying out the structure of the agreement that will bring Israel back home, by trading agreed-upon settlement blocs - that should never been created - with alternative territories.

Kerry's vigorous actions signal that Obama's visit was not a one-time event. The same goes for Obama and Kerry's decision not to make do with the appointment a presidential envoy but to grant the Secretary of State authority to exercise his full personal influence, with presidential backing, for continuous regional mediation.

This is a good and praiseworthy start for Obama's second Middle East chapter. Israel must contribute generously, add initiatives and not stand aside in the hope Obama and Kerry will give up and go home.

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