Secretary of State John Kerry has found himself literally following in the president’s footsteps, traveling to Israel in his third Mideast trip in recent weeks. But despite all the diplomatic attention, with Kerry content to continue the president’s low-profile approach, we shouldn’t expect a renewed peace process in the immediate future.
For the most part, Kerry’s visit has been unremarkable. He’s met with all the usual characters, including Israeli President Shimon Perez, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, offered the typical platitudes, and laid a wreath at the Holocaust memorial.
Kerry specifically reiterated the United States’ concerns with Iran’s nuclear program, as well as its support for Israel’s safety in the face of an Iranian nuclear weapon. "As the president has said many times, he doesn't bluff. He is serious and we will stand with Israel against this threat," said Kerry, "our eyes are open and we understand that the clock is moving."
Hinting at possible support of an Israeli military strike, he warned that "No one will allow the diplomatic process to stand in the way of whatever choices need to be taken in order to protect the world from another nuclear weapon in the wrong hands."
Another important part of Kerry’s trip has been bridge-building between Israel and Turkey, both strong American allies whose relationship has been icy as of late. He addressed concerns of Turkish triumphalism after Israel formally apologized for the deaths of nine Turks aboard an aid ship attempting to break the blockade of Gaza in 2010.
Repairing Israeli-Turkish relations has been a high priority for U.S. diplomats following the incident, particularly in light of the situation in Syria and Turkey’s growing role as a regional power. Kerry also acknowledged Turkey’s possible contributions to the Israel-Palestine issue, stating that the country could offer a "key, an important contribution to the process of peace in so many ways."
As for the peace process on the whole, Kerry has expressed a very cautious optimism, fully aware of the many obstacles that lie ahead.
“Nobody is entering this with any sense of naivete,” he offered. "I am convinced there is a road forward. I would say to everyone that I have no illusions about the difficulties, we've seen them."
One concrete step offered towards breaking the stalemate is an initiative to boost the West Bank’s dire economic situation. "Economic growth will help us be able to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere, within which people have greater confidence about moving forward," explained Kerry. The plan aims to spur private investment and business expansion in Palestinian territory currently controlled by Israel, and it’s believed that the U.S. Import-Export Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp., and USAID will all play a role.
Kerry’s visit isn’t expected to accomplish much, but at the very least it indicates that the Obama administration is seriously looking at re-approaching an issue that has been stalled for almost four years. With the consistent failure of grand gestures thus far, perhaps these small steps offer the hope of slow, but steady, progress.