Skip to main content

John Kerry's bold push for peace

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
updated 11:52 AM EDT, Tue July 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf: Talk of pending peace talks has quieted chatter about Kerry's Mideast travel
  • He says other recent regional conflicts have changed dominance of Arab-Israeli issue
  • He says it's still a central issue and U.S. has role to play in bringing parties to table
  • Rothkopf: It could still fail, but Obama should be thankful Kerry has doggedly taken it on

Editor's note: David Rothkopf writes regularly for CNN.com. He is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- The cynical Beltway chatter about Secretary of State John Kerry paused last week with the announcement that peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians might begin shortly in Washington. Perhaps he was not Don Quixote after all, tilting at the problem that has bedeviled negotiators for decades.

Perhaps all those trips to the Middle East were not, as some had suggested, simply an effort by Kerry to appear relevant. Perhaps he might actually deserve credit for doggedly pursuing peace, for taking the initiative in a part of the world where foreign policy is something that happens to us, beyond our control or influence.

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

Nonetheless, it is not too early to ask whether Kerry's tenacious efforts are a good use of his time or the Obama administration's resources and political capital. Is any chance at solving this defining problem of the modern Middle East worth the effort? Or is this just a Hail Mary pass from a politician-turned-diplomat in search of a big role or an administration in desperate need of a good news foreign policy story?

There is no question that this is not the same old Arab-Israeli peace initiative. Yes, it has all the familiar combinations of distrust and mutual need, a debate over Israel's 1967 borders, seemingly irreconcilable differences over Jerusalem, and political divisions within both camps that seem likely to make negotiations hard and implementation harder.

Reporter's notebook: Awaiting the birth of the Mideast peace baby

But much has changed. Today, the American people have less stomach for the problems of the Middle East and a sense, thanks to the vaunted domestic energy revolution, that we are less dependent on that part of the world. Europe is back on its heels economically. China and India are not yet ready to step up and play a central role in the region. And the result is that getting a grip on regionwide instability is harder and harder to do. Such issues as Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear program, the Arab Spring, Syria, and the spread of militant extremism now arguably are more important to the U.S. than the venerable problem of Arab-Israeli peace.

Kerry announces breakthrough in Mideast
Kerry chokes back tears about wife

Yes, regional ministers apparently said to John Kerry in talks last week that it is a central issue tied to many of the region's problems. But that old assertion needs to be viewed skeptically. It has served as an excuse for many in the region to explain their failure to govern or grow as their people wanted. It is easy to test, too. Just ask which among the litany of challenges mentioned would be solved or truly be made measurably easier to deal with were an Israeli-Palestinian deal struck. The answer is: Not many.

None of these reasons however suggests that this is a problem to ignore. First, it is one of the few regional problems in which there is a clear role for the U.S. to play. Israel is our most dependable ally in the region. The Palestinians deserve their own state and a chance at the economic opportunity that real peace would bring. And while peace between Israelis and Palestinians is unlike to transform the Middle East overnight, it is bound to help reduce some tensions and remove at least one old excuse for conflict.

Further, the clock is ticking demographically. Israel must cut a deal with the Palestinians sooner rather than later, or the idea of a Jewish state will be undercut by having a majority Palestinian population. What is more, virtually all of Israel's borders are at greater risk today than at any time in decades due to tumult in Egypt, Syria's crisis, refugee flows into Jordan, and so on. In that light, more stability in Gaza and the West Bank is more strategically important than ever.

None of this means that reaching a deal -- or even getting to meaningful talks that are about more than near-term issues like prisoner swaps -- is going to be easy. To the contrary, it'll be grueling and is likely to fail. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. Kerry has recognized this and, through the power of tireless personal diplomacy, at least produced a little progress. For that he deserves credit and real support from the White House, Congress and the American people.

The White House should be immensely thankful that Kerry has been single-minded and immune to the cheap-shot criticisms of District of Columbia denizens. Right now, the U.S. looks pretty weak in the Middle East. Kerry's effort at least shows a sign of a pulse and a little vision for U.S. foreign policy in the region. Even if little else comes out of it, that alone makes it a risk worth taking.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 5:15 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 5:53 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 7:05 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT