He won't achieve much.
Kerry and his colleagues will thrash out the language of a new document that will outline a framework for the future of the "two-state solution" — the vision of an independent Israel and Palestine living side-by-side — and likely further condemn Israel's continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Dignitaries from at least 72 countries will be on hand to reiterate their support for an independent Palestinian state. But there's little reason for optimism.
"If history is any guide," The Post's Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth, notes, "there is no reason to think that the Paris conference will move Israelis and Palestinians closer to a final peace. Similar efforts over the past 25 years have failed."
Kerry himself spent the better part of a year in 2013 and 2014 shuttling back and forth between the Israelis and the Palestinians, hoping to secure a lasting deal that would also cement his own foreign policy legacy. Those efforts proved fruitless, much to the chagrin of the Americans, some of whom came out and pinned the blame on the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In willful defiance of the rest of the world, key figures within Netanyahu's ruling coalition outright reject the prospect of an independent Palestinian state.
Netanyahu himself is boycotting the Paris meeting. His beleaguered counterpart, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, will arrive in Paris on Monday.
“It’s a rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians, under French auspices, to adopt additional anti-Israel stances,” Netanyahu furiously declared on Thursday.
There's no love lost between the Israeli leader and President Obama, particularly after the United States chose to abstain rather than veto a landmark resolution passed in the United Nations Security Council last month. The resolution declared Israeli settlements "a flagrant violation under international law."
The abstention signaled the White House's longstanding frustration with Netanyahu. But with Obama and the Paris meeting's host, French President Francois Hollande, both on their way out, Netanyahu can simply bide his time.
"It's not going to obligate us," the Israeli prime minister said of any agreement negotiated in Paris. "It's a relic of the past. It's a last gasp of the past before the future sets in."
But what is that future?
Netanyahu sees a clear ally in President-elect Donald Trump. Trump decried the Security Council resolution and chose a new U.S. ambassador to Israel who is a cheerleader for settlements and keen on the controversial relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The complicated status of the holy city — the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the putative capital of their future state — led both the Obama and Bush administrations to resist calls to move the embassy there.
Yet no matter how deep Trump's support, Netanyahu has led Israel into a dramatic and deepening political isolation. Calls for boycotts and divestment from Israel are growing louder and louder in various parts of the West, particularly Europe. The list of countries that recognize an independent Palestinian state is getting bigger. That includes the Holy See, which recently agreed to the opening of a Palestinian embassy at the Vatican. Even Trump's own appointed lieutenants, including defense secretary nominee Gen. James Mattis, are pushing back on moves like the embassy relocation that would upset the fragile status quo.
This is cold comfort for the Palestinians. Abbas and the largely toothless and unpopular Palestinian leadership are pinning their hopes on the symbolic value of international summits and gestures. But they don't change the facts on the ground for the millions of Palestinians chafing under a military occupation that deprives them of many of the same fundamental rights as the Israelis who live around them.
Netanyahu and his allies say the enduring security threats posed by Palestinian terrorists and lone wolf assailants are the real impediment to progress. The Security Council resolution last month condemned "acts of terror, as well acts of provocation [and] incitement." But it placed the onus on Israel to cease settlement expansion and respect its legal obligations under international law.
The way forward is tricky. There's no movement for renewed talks between Netanayahu's and Abbas's camps. There's no critical mass of support in Israel itself for the fulfillment of the two-state solution. And there's little sign that the hectoring and moralizing of foreign governments will compel the Israelis to make any real concessions or halt settlement construction.
Some experts on the conflict in Washington suggest that the only solution is for the Palestinians and Israelis to agree to territory swaps and the continued existence of a certain number of settlements in the West Bank. But that is a tough sell for both the Palestinians seeking their own state and Netanayhu's hardline and uncompromising political base.
The reality then, the experts say, is a drift "toward a one-state outcome." This is what Trump seems to be willing to let play out in the coming years — and it's not really in Netanyahu's interest.
It would see Israel's Jewish population become an eventual minority. And — depending on Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories — it would sharpen the parallel between the Israeli occupation and apartheid in South Africa. Israel's present political isolation may be nothing compared to its status on the world stage four years from now.
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