Secretary of State John Kerry has made 11 trips to the Middle East since July to facilitate Israeli-Arab peace talks. Last week, it looked as though his efforts were thwarted, when President Mahmoud Abbas applied for membership in international bodies — a move considered off limits by the American-brokered negotiation terms. In response, Israel canceled a prisoner release scheduled for March 29.
Kerry is still urging “the leaders to lead” and to work through the differences, though for now it seems that negotiations have stalled. Israel claims it canceled the prisoner release due to the international membership applications, but the Palestinian leadership said it submitted applications because Israel defaulted on prisoner release terms. And so it goes.
“I have to hope that they’re going to work out a way that they’ll continue negotiations,” said Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation. “It’s no guarantee that negotiations will lead to peace, and yet if you’re not negotiating, you’re not closer to peace.”
At a news conference in Rabat, Morocco, Kerry warned: “There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward.”
Neither party has called off the negotiations, said Kerry, “but we’re not going to sit there indefinitely.”
Local reaction to the stalled peace talks is hopeful, realistic and impassioned. Community members who spoke with the JT did so on his or her own behalf, not on behalf of the organizations with which they are associated.
“If you stop and think of the whole turmoil in the Middle East, what is the island of stability?” questioned Ellen Plant, a member of the Israel Coalition and Baltimore Zionist District. “The island of stability is Israel. Let’s never forget that Israel has been committed to peace since 1948. It has been circumvented year in and year out, and what Abbas did was another step in circumventing the peace process.”
Bill Fox sits on the national council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and is a member of the national board of Friends of Israel Defense Forces. He believes it is not just Palestinians who are the point of contention.
“It’s not a Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but an Arab-Israeli conflict,” explained Fox. “The Arab League voted that they will never recognize Israel as a state. How can there be a peace process if the Arabs … do not want a Jewish state in their midst?”
Rabbi Sonya Starr of Columbia Jewish Congregation considered the stalled peace talks in a larger context.
“It feels to me as if our world is losing the art of compromising for a greater good,” said Starr. “We can see it in many different arenas — in the Middle East for a long time but even in our own country, in Washington.”
Brian Sacks is a past president of Baltimore Zionist District and currently co-chairs the Baltimore-Israel Coalition. He said it is unfortunate peace can’t be reached, but he looks at other markers as a move in the right direction.
“Peace treaties, the peace process, hasn’t worked,” said Sacks. “It’s led to quiet in some places, rockets in others.
“Quiet is a good temporary solution,” he added. “Maybe the goal instead of peace should be quiet. Quiet is a good thing.”
Kerry’s seemingly hopeful but realistic approach to broker peace is echoed in some of the local sentiments as well.
“There’s always hope,” said Fox. “I’ve always been hopeful that some accord, some accommodation, consistent with what Israel must have security, recognition, an end to terrorism and an end to incitement [can be reached]. That’s what Israel has to have.”
Plant is hopeful that one day the Israelis and Palestinians can work out an agreement, and she believes that “the day that Abbas and Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, the road to peace will be much shorter.”
See related story, “Back to the Drawing Board.”