Secretary of State John F. Kerry's diligent effort to relaunch Middle East peace talks regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are so far yielding little progress.
Since his appointment at the beginning of President Barack Obama's second term, Mr. Kerry has been engaged in a major effort, virtually shuttle diplomacy, to enlist the Israelis and the Palestinians in talks to resolve their 65-year-long conflict. His campaign has included trips to the region and meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Acting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others.
It is clear that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians want to be seen telling him "no," if for no other reason than that both parties receive large amounts of aid from the United States -- the Israelis, more than $3 billion a year, and the Palestinians, $200 million in humanitarian and other assistance. Mr. Kerry has also suggested to the Palestinians that he is willing to undertake a major new effort to attract American and other international private investment to the West Bank as a sweetener to their coming to talks.
But he has had no luck with either side so far. From the Israelis, the latest insult to him and to the United States was the Ministry of Housing and Construction's announcement last week that it had given final approval for the building of 300 new homes in an Israeli settlement in disputed East Jerusalem. The residences would be in an area whose future would be under discussion between the two sides if there were talks. The announcement's timing and content were a clear slap in the face to Mr. Kerry's efforts.
He has not had much luck on the Palestinian side either. The division between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza remains, in spite of Egyptian efforts to mend the tear. Mr. Kerry has yet to involve himself directly in efforts toward a unified Palestinian side with which the Israelis could negotiate if they were so disposed. He might be able to break through that particular barrier if he were willing to go out on a limb with a visit to Gaza, which he has been unwilling to undertake so far.
Given the danger posed by the lack of peace talks, Mr. Kerry is correct to keep working to restore them. The peril is enhanced by the continuing unrest on Israel's borders, especially in Syria but also in Egypt, Jordan and now Lebanon. At the same time, Americans should not underestimate the difficulty of the task he has undertaken, given Israeli and Palestinian unhelpfulness. Both the White House and Congress should support Mr. Kerry fully in his mission.