Just 10 days ago, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a diplomatic breakthrough on bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the table for peace talks, with a promise for additional news within a week or so. As of this morning, the process -- and the progress -- is real.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will resume peace talks here on Monday night, the State Department said in a statement on Sunday afternoon. It will be the first time that the two have held direct talks since 2010.Clearing the last obstacle to resuming peace talks, the Israeli cabinet voted Sunday to approve the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, an unpopular move with many Israelis.Secretary of State John Kerry then spoke with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to formally invite them to send their negotiating teams to Washington. "Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point," Mr. Kerry said in a statement. "We are grateful for their leadership."
To reinforce the seriousness with which the Obama administration is taking these talks, Kerry also announced this morning that former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk will be Washington's Middle East peace envoy.
To go ahead and state the painfully obvious, it's best to keep expectations in check -- Reuters reports this morning that Israeli and Palestinian officials put forward "clashing formats" for peace talks.
Nevertheless, for the first time in several years, the Middle East peace process has at least been brought back to the negotiating table.
And to reiterate a point from a couple of weeks ago, Kerry deserves a lot of credit.
Kerry has been in office for a little less than six months, and in that time, he's made six trips to the Middle East in the hopes of renewing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. This included a private dinner a few weeks ago with Mahmoud Abbas, and discussions with Arab League diplomats and King Abdullah of Jordan soon after.
And while this hasn't generated much interest from the political world, Kerry's diligence has been pretty remarkable. Earlier this month, the Secretary of State was in Israel for four days, leading "the most intense Middle East peace push in years." He left without a renewal of talks, but insisted his efforts had yielded real movement and "real progress" had been made.
At the time, skeptics scoffed. The Times of Israel's David Horovitz said at the time, "This is the fifth bid by the leading diplomat of the world's superpower to persuade these two people to go into a room together, and even that he cannot achieve. At some point it becomes embarrassing and humiliating for the United States."
And yet, the talks are back on.