Just eight months on the job, Secretary of State John Kerry is already tasked with ironing out decades worth of deep-rooted tensions roiling through the Middle East. Kerry set an ambitious goal while meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators last week to reach a peace deal between the two sides over the course of the next nine months.
Host Melissa Harris-Perry and her Saturday panel discussed the kick off of peace talks, an issue Kerry has been following throughout the course of his recently-ended tenure in Congress.
“He does seem to be well liked and even trusted by both sides and I think that he knows the issues relatively well from having sat on the Senate Foreign relations committee for so long,” said Michael Singh, former senior director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council.
Even though Kerry may be the “face” of the negotiations and has made several trips to the region, it is the negotiators who will try to broker peace on the part of the United States–specifically, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, a man who Singh says “knows these negotiations very well.” There’s also a political capital to letting negotiators handle the peace talks because according to Singh, “if it fails at this level it’s not catastrophic.”
The two chief sides will be represented by Israel Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “Livni wants an agreement. She genuinely wants a two-state solution. And I think she’s unique in Israel for that fact. And Saeb Erekat is a very seasoned negotiator and he also genuinely wants a two-state solution,” said Leila Hilal, director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation.
Swift action with negotiations will remain crucial in future relations between the two sides. Jeremy Ben-Ami, president and founder of the pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, told Harris-Perry that the time is now. “The urgency is real. If the sides don’t achieve an agreement now, the spiral of consequences is really potentially severe.” If the talks fail, Ben-Ami said, “the Palestinian Authority likely could collapse. The Israelis would have to go back in and assume full civil and military control of the West Bank. Violence would likely erupt.”
What peace actually looks like to both sides is also a key question. “The issue is that the Palestinians are asking for self-determination and they’re asking it on a compromise basis of 22% of their historic homeland. And they’re also asking for recognition for the right of the refugees who were displaced from their land in 1948 and after,” said Hilal.
Ben-Ami said that Israeli concerns center more around safety. “Security issues are the most important to Israelis and if somebody like Netanyahu says to them this deal is in your security interest they will follow him (Netanyahu),” he said. msnbc contributor Rula Jebreal, a foreign policy analyst for Newsweek, sees Israel’s participation in a peace deal as vital to their future. “I think what the Israelis are realizing more and more, and this is why they’re suddenly coming along that if the peace agreement will not be brokered now before it’s too late there will be no Jewish state.”
“Israel will wake up one day and realize that they are ruling over a majority of Arabs, and they will have to decide whether it’s a Jewish state or a democratic state,” said Jebreal.
For more of the conversation, see the video below.