The Palestinians, meanwhile, are weak and divided -- and just got rid of their main asset with the international community, former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. At the same time, the Arab world is preoccupied with its own historical transformation, which has left many of the key states for a regional agreement looking inward. Saudi Arabia, for example, is in a state of transition, and both Egypt and Syria are engrossed in their own domestic affairs.
Surely this is not a promising environment for fresh negotiations. Rather, it could be an argument for doing nothing now -- and instead waiting for a better time. Alternatively, it could be an argument for finding a catalyst that can provide the necessary environment for real negotiations.
This brings us to the crux of the matter: How committed is President Barack Obama to ending the conflict and does he feel any pressure to tackle it now? It's easy to understand why Obama would choose an easier route and not attempt anything dramatic. Faced with a vexing array of domestic and international issues -- ranging from budget deficits to concerns about Iran, Syria, China, and Afghanistan -- the Arab-Israeli conflict may not be high up on the president's agenda. Add to this Obama's personal position -- said publicly and privately -- that he cannot want peace more than the parties themselves, and it is difficult to see the same sense of urgency implied in Kerry's statements.
And so, before anyone gets overexcited about statements, speeches, and trips to the region, it must be said what a U.S.-led effort needs to contain in order to be taken seriously.
Washington needs to work privately with all the parties -- Palestinians, Israelis, and Arabs -- to allow for a speedy negotiation process. It also needs to put on the table parameters that are specific enough to break the present deadlock but which don't effectively impose a pre-written agreement on the parties themselves. And most importantly, Obama must elevate the issue to the top of his priority list and signal that he is willing pay the domestic political cost for moving ahead boldly toward a resolution.
Nothing short of this type of commitment will have any chance of success.
Kerry's enthusiasm and sincerity will not be enough. Only the full backing of the U.S. president and a bold new plan can push this process forward. Is Obama in this frame of mind? I highly doubt it. But I hope he will prove people like me wrong.