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Last call
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013.(AP Photo/Brian Snyder, Pool)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013.(AP Photo/Brian Snyder, Pool)
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As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in the Middle East Thursday evening, his ninth visit since February, the region was left wondering what exactly he hoped to achieve this time around, or perhaps he had simply developed a taste for the local shawarma.

His last trip to Israel and Palestine was just last week, when he arrived with a new security plan which allowed Israel to retain control of security in the Jordan Valley.

Obviously it was welcomed by Israel, and lambasted by the Palestinians, who have rejected the plan. If Kerry is indeed here to try and find new support for the plan, it was a completely wasted journey, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warning Thursday evening that “If America wants to protect the security of Israel, they can go there [to the Jordan Valley], but we will not accept Israel being there.”

Or maybe Kerry is trying to manage the general situation so it does not look like yet another dramatic failure of U.S. foreign policy, another instance of the United States promising something but failing to deliver.

However, it does seem that the Americans have finally realized that the Palestine question is one foreign policy problem which will not simply disappear, something Israeli right-wingers continue to believe, having hoped, from their initial occupation of the land in 1948, that future generations of Palestinians would just move on and forget about what had once been their home.

Other Middle Eastern issues come and go, and steal the headlines for months and years at a time, but the question of a homeland for the Palestinian people will be here until it is achieved. And instead of “forgetting,” younger Palestinians are often much more extremist in their commitment to the cause than their predecessors. After 65 years of living in what were initially intended to be temporary settlements, those Palestinians living outside are also similarly driven by their right to return.

But America’s sudden interest in the Middle East peace process, signaled by Kerry’s flurry of visits to the region, which he has joked is his “commute,” is not down to any commitment to justice, or human rights or freedom. For then they would have been working earnestly on the issue since 1948. Instead they have just finally woken up to the fact that the issue is not going away any time soon.

But while the American policy on the Palestine issue has been severely lacking, ranging from the hazy to the objectively destructive, Arab neighbors have also failed.

The Arab League announced Thursday that foreign ministers would meet in Cairo in a couple of weeks to “discuss the peace process.” How many times over the last six decades has a similar statement been issued? What good will this actually achieve, save for a nice weekend in a Cairo hotel?

The coming days will reveal whether or not Kerry has something new up his sleeve, so perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt. However, the Palestinians have said they do not want an interim deal, but rather a commitment to all final status issues. Kerry said last week that a resolution was closer than ever. Would he really say that if it didn’t bear any element of truth?

Instead of words, as American negotiators have brought before, Kerry needs to bring action: resolutions and concrete promises that Israel can be held accountable on. If the U.S. really wants to be an honest broker for peace, this is what is needed now.

Now is the time for the U.S. to stand up for Palestine and to show that it can break away from Israel. A Palestinian state will not be achieved through words alone, nor through echoing Israeli policy.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 13, 2013, on page 7.
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