"Poof," said John Kerry, "that was sort of the moment. We find ourselves where we are."
The U.S. secretary of state spoke from the heart, or at least not from a script, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He described how negotiations with the Israelis and Palestinians had collapsed — again.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised Kerry that he would release a group of Palestinian prisoners, but has ignored the agreed timetable since. The date has come and gone. The Palestinians said that Netanyahu had broken his promise and responded by seeking membership in a number of United Nations bodies, something they had promised to avoid, but only as long as Israel was fulfilling its part of the plan. Israel retaliated with a major effort to bring more Jewish settlers into occupied territory.
And "poof" — the peace process went up in smoke yet again.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting new results. If one uses this definition, it is neither the Israelis or Palestinians who appear most insane, but rather a long series of U.S. presidents and secretaries of state.
Since the beginning of the peace process, the U.S. has tried the same recipe again and again and again. The only thing that has changed is the names of the various rounds of negotiations and peace plans, from Madrid in 1991 to Oslo in 1993, Wye River in 1998, Camp David in 2000, Taba in 2001, Roadmap for Peace in 2003, Sharm el-Sheikh in 2005 and Annapolis in 2007.
No peace has there ever been, just perpetual litigation — which suits Israel just fine. As long as negotiations continue, occupation authorities continue to expand their territory and eliminate the conditions for Palestinian independence. Land theft has long been one of Israel's highest-prioritized state operations, but the current government seems determined to set some kind of record in settlement policy. In 2013, more than twice as many settlements started to be built on occupied land than in 2012.
Now, more than a half a million settlers live in the West Bank, including in the occupied eastern part of Jerusalem. Almost half of them have moved there since 1993, when the so-called peace process began. What has the U.S. done during all these years? Used a total of 13 vetoes in the Security Council to protect Israel against pressure from the United Nations.
Barack Obama tried to change tack. When he took office in 2009, he demanded a pause in settlement expansion, but received a flat refusal from Netanyahu. Instead of tightening his superpower muscles, Obama slunk from the fray with his tail between his legs, unwilling to challenge Israel's cheerleaders in Congress — and soon everything was back to the way it had been.
Netanyahu could do exactly as he pleased: As long as he pretended to negotiate, the U.S. would pretend to believe it.
Thus far, throughout spring, John Kerry has been shuttling between Washington and Jerusalem to continue the peace process without prerequisites, having moved a millimeter on the ground — as if a solution would suddenly turn up if Kerry only managed to get Israelis and Palestinians to disagree at the same table long enough, and as if the first step toward a peaceful solution could be taken in Jerusalem or Ramallah.
Of course, what everyone is waiting for is someone to dare to take that step in Washington.
Otherwise — poof.