If he fails, however, he and President Obama may at least get some credit for trying. Obama and Kerry have both warned that time is quickly running out to make a deal.
The State Department insists that this isn’t the shuttle diplomacy of old, but the quick return shows that the Obama administration sees real promise for renewed talks. The White House, too, is showing signs of resumed engagement. On Friday, officials announced that the leaders of Jordan, Turkey and Qatar would visit with Obama in the coming weeks. Mideast peace was not mentioned as an agenda item in the brief White House notices, but U.S. officials hope to line up Arab support for any new negotiations.
A resumption of talks, mostly frozen for more than four years, would be the first small accomplishment toward a broad agreement that settles borders for a future state of Palestine and resolves bitter disputes over administration of Jerusalem and the claims of Palestinians and their heirs displaced from modern Israel six decades ago.
“I think all of us have learned in the course of the last years, through many presidents and many secretaries of state, there has been no more intractable problem,” Kerry said shortly after leaving Jerusalem and the West Bank with Obama last month. “Expressing optimism when you don’t even have negotiations would be foolhardy. What I have is hope.”
Obama joins a list of presidents that includes Bill Clinton and George W. Bush who used the elbow room of a second term to tackle Mideast peacemaking, but he is letting Kerry do the spadework for now. Kerry will tell both sides that they have to genuinely want to return to the negotiating table if they expect American help, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said this past week.
“His diplomacy will be based on what he hears from the parties,” Nuland said. “They’ve got to recognize — both parties — that compromises and sacrifices are going to have to be made if we’re going to be able to help.”
Kerry will present no plan and has no set schedule for returning after this visit, Nuland said. But other U.S. officials said Kerry is expected to make regular visits to keep the pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to continue talking.
“Kerry is genuinely interested and willing to get the U.S. engaged on the peace process,” said Marwan Muasher, a Middle East scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The question is, would that engagement be enough to result in a deal or not?”