Secretary John Kerry’s grand “accomplishment” so far amounts to agreement for the Israelis and Palestinians to talk in a couple of weeks.

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Kerry was blathering away on Tuesday, filled with more than his usual quotient of hot air:

I know the path is difficult. There is no shortage of passionate skeptics. But with capable, respected negotiators, like Minister Tzipi Livni and Dr. Saeb Erekat, standing side by side here today and last night sharing an Iftar meal together with all of us, with their efforts, their expertise, and their commitment, I’m convinced that we can get there. We’re here today because the Israeli people and the Palestinian people both have leaders willing to heed the call of history, leaders who will stand strong in the face of criticism and are right now for what they know is in their people’s best interests. Their commitment to make tough choices, frankly, should give all of us hope that these negotiations actually have a chance to accomplish something.

You could splice together all the clichés from years of these interludes and wind up with the same spiel. In fact, that’s probably what he did.

In a background briefing by a senior State Department official, there was more than the usual amount of empty phrases and assurances that everyone agreed to be “serious.” Of note, however, was a hint and an admission how badly the administration had screwed up under Hillary Clinton’s watch.

On the hint, there was this exchange:

QUESTION: Right. But it wasn’t an explicit assurance from the Palestinian side that they won’t refer Israel to the ICC or there was not explicit assurance of that, because either way we’re going to see over the next – it’s been a very public declaration that they reserve that right. Are we going to be hearing that or are we —

SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I don’t want to get into explicit or un-explicit, private or non-private assurances in any way. I’m just saying that, I think I’m stating pretty much the obvious that with this process moving forward, the risk of that sort of clash at the UN or elsewhere is reduced or eliminated.

Over 100 terrorists released so the PA wouldn’t go back to the United Nations, which they should never have done and was in violation of multiple existing agreements? A poor trade, if that is the case.

On the admission, the official stated:

Well, first I would reiterate the United States position on the settlements remains unchanged. We’ve made that very, very clear the parties all the way along. As we’ve said, we hope they will take steps to create a positive atmosphere for negotiations. But I think it’s also safe to say that whereas last time we did an extensive amount of work to create a settlement moratorium or a settlement freeze, we haven’t gone down that path now. And so I think it would
be fair to say that you are likely to see Israeli settlement continue – activity continue, and we’ve made our position very clear on that to the Israelis.

Lesson learned, I suppose. I’m sure Hillary will explain all about it in her memoirs.

In fact the talks are going nowhere. Hamas controls Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas is arguably weaker than ever. Israel is surrounded by unrest and has learned not to rely on this U.S. president.

Israel’s settlements, as the background briefer suggested, are the least of the problems between the parties. A new study suggests both the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers have grossly exaggerated the number of people involved. Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot write:

The total number of eligible voters in settlements beyond the security fence in January 2013 stood at 43,155. Both the Yesha council website and data from the 2008 Israeli census indicate that the median age is 18 in the Judea and Samaria communities, which means that the actual population is about double the number of voters.

Ironically, both the Palestinian Authority and the Yesha council have chosen a strategy of supersizing the numbers — the Palestinians to create a sense of urgency (“the window for peace is closing”), and the settlers a sense of irreversibility (“it’s too late to move so many settlers out”). Scare tactics and alarmism, however, will only stifle productive debate and can lead to policies grounded in misinformation.

. . . . The roughly 80,000 Jews who live in the places included in the 2008 offer by Olmert still remain a drop in a sea of Palestinians. Perhaps the settler movement should reconsider its focus on maintaining and expanding that small population, which is only 3 to 5 percent of the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank. An internal debate over possible overstretching, and consideration of focusing their efforts on second-tier goals — such as the Negev and the Galilee, where the Jewish population is thin, and successive governments have tried to increase it — might be worthwhile.

But that discussion is far in the distance, as it has been for nearly 50 years. So long as the Palestinians insist on a Jewish-free Palestine and the right of return of Palestinians to Israel (i.e. a one-state solution), the debate Abrams and Sadot describe remains theoretical.

Meanwhile, Iran builds its bomb. (At least the House is on the ball and passed with 400 votes a new sanctions bill to authorize the president to bar companies from doing business in the United States if they carry out significant trade with Tehran. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was one of the few to vote against it, cementing his reputation as one of the congressmen least attentive to our national security needs. Egypt is spinning out of control, and the slaughter continues in Syria. No wonder Kerry is busy wasting time on the “peace process”; otherwise people might ask where the heck he is as the Middle East comes apart at the seams.