Feature

Silent Shuttle

If John Kerry wants to make peace in the Middle East, he's going to need some Kissinger mojo.

Pick up most any newspaper or magazine these days, and you wouldn't know that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been a busy, busy man. His peace offensive in the Middle East has been remarkably subdued. In fact, one of the most newsworthy aspects of his present push to revive negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the sheer lack of news it has generated. This could not be more different from the approach taken by Henry Kissinger, arguably Kerry's most storied predecessor, in his "shuttle" diplomacy in the Middle East between 1973 and 1976.

As one of the handful of journalists who traveled with Kissinger for those three years, I've found myself reflecting on the secrets of his successes as Kerry's version of the shuttle takes shape. Kissinger began his back-and-forth negotiations under enormous pressure, while Egypt and Israel fought a bloody war in the Sinai Peninsula. At present, there is no shooting war in Israel or Palestine, but that doesn't make Kerry's quest any less crucial for both countries -- and the region.

Nearly four decades later, Kerry is resuming efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begun by Kissinger after the successful 1975 Separation of Forces agreement that halted hostilities between Israel and Egypt. But Kissinger produced no further movement on the Palestinian front. The promising Oslo Accord of 1993, which provided a framework for resolving all final status issues within five years of implementing Palestinian autonomy, was scuttled by the Israelis.

Since then, the conflict has remained frozen in time. The issues are exactly as they were: Israel steadfastly refuses to return to the 1967 borders, withdraw settlers from the West Bank or halt settlement construction -- all points at the top of the Palestinians' list of demands. But if the parameters of the conflict are the same, the negotiating style of the U.S. secretary of state is not. The question is: Are Kerry's backroom tactics as effective as Kissinger's media friendly approach?

My most powerful memories of those days involve the tremendous attention generated by Kissinger, both at home and abroad. The negotiators on both sides couldn't ignore his public drive for success. In stark contrast, Kerry chooses to operate behind the scenes, maintaining a tight lid on the press. As a result, his shuttles have generated sparse media attention, little public interest, and almost no pressure on the negotiators. Kissinger realized that public relations was a central battlefield in diplomacy, and he manipulated his "winning" image through a mastery of the media and Congress.

To his credit, Kerry's approach has achieved a couple of tactical goals: The Israelis have apparently agreed to release some prisoners from their jails and the Palestinians signaled their willingness to hold off on a critical issue for them -- applying for full U.N. membership -- for six months. Kerry also persuaded the Arab League to accept mutually agreed land swaps in determining the final borders of a Palestinian state, so long as Israel accepts the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations. Talks between the two parties are expected to begin as early as next week, though, of course, this promises nothing.

But one wonders how much more could be accomplished with a savvy media campaign. Kissinger's shrewdest move was taking along 14 veteran international correspondents from major U.S. media outlets -- each determined for his or her own reasons to get into print or on the air every day. In so doing, Kissinger not only created his very own "leak machine" but guaranteed unprecedented 24-hour media coverage in the United States and around the world. In negotiations, where leaks are the chief currency, Kissinger positioned himself as paymaster.

Like Kissinger, Kerry has taken a cadre of journalists on his six trips to the Middle East since he was sworn in as secretary of state in February, but somehow he has failed to convert this into a Kissinger-like road show. As a result, he hasn't generated anything like Kissinger's public persona. Some days, he gets no coverage at all. Kissinger, in contrast, would get on the evening news simply for visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing or taking correspondents to the Western Wall in Jerusalem -- something totally unrelated to negotiations.

Of course, some of the public's disinterest can be explained by ennui and cynicism after all these years of negotiations and conferences. The Israeli mood has turned against yielding any territory at all, and many in Israel doubt there is a negotiating partner in the divided Palestinian leadership. For their part, the Palestinians simply don't believe the Israelis are negotiating seriously. Still, Kerry would be well advised to change his tactics. Aggressively drumming up media coverage would raise public expectations and, in turn, place pressure on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to make progress.

To be sure, Kissinger and Kerry are two very different personalities, and Kerry -- though more than competent -- can't be expected to match the flair of the Kissinger road show. Kissinger is often described as "devious" and "manipulative" -- which he is -- but his real strength is personality and a strategic grasp of the situation. While in office (and indeed, after) he was known for manipulating diplomatic jargon. He could be crystal clear or speak, as we correspondents learned, in triple negatives. "Kissinger is about as conspiratorial as the people he was dealing with," an Israeli diplomat once told me with sly wink. "They found him a kindred spirit."

Despite his awkward appearance and distinct German accent, Kissinger presented himself to foreign leaders as if he were a head of state. He was, in fact, with both Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, able to carve out authority to act virtually on his own. Foreign leaders recognized this and treated him accordingly. When Kissinger spoke, it was the United States speaking.

Kerry, for his part, enjoys close relations with President Barack Obama but it's no secret the president is not fully invested in the latest bid to revive peace talks. Nevertheless, Kerry would do well to present a more dynamic and outgoing image, to look more, well, statesmanlike.

Likewise, Kerry might learn from Kissinger's willingness to play hardball, even with friends.

In 1975, for example, when he was frustrated by Israel's lack of flexibility over borders, Kissinger abruptly called off talks in Jerusalem and returned to Washington, leaking to reporters that a "reassessment" was underway. He was also more sensitive to the despair of Palestinians than Kerry has been. Midway through the shuttle, Kissinger remarked that the "Middle East will not know peace until a way is found to accommodate the uprooted Palestinians."  

Although Kissinger was forced to contend with numerous other world crises during his shuttle diplomacy -- Vietnam, Soviet efforts to enter the Middle East, the 1973 oil crisis -- he enjoyed one primary advantage: relatively stable governments in both Jerusalem and Cairo led by leaders able to make decisions. In contrast, Kerry -- who also has his hands full with various crises, from Syria to North Korea -- faces dysfunctional governments in both Jerusalem and Ramallah, not to mention in the Gaza Strip. In Israel, Kerry's efforts thus far have exposed deep divisions on issues of peace and security, occupation, settlements, and whether the Palestinians can ever be trusted. Netanyahu, meanwhile, is a man without a party who is being constantly pushed to the right by growing conservative forces opposed to any flexibility on territorial issues.

The Palestinians, too, have arrived at a strategic fork. Kerry's efforts may mark the last chance for Palestinian moderates like President Mahmoud Abbas to reach a two-state deal through diplomatic means. If Kerry fails, Palestinians will almost certainly try again to achieve full membership in the United Nations on their own, a move which might force the United States to painfully reassess its traditional opposition to unilateral measures. Kerry will then have to overcome the overwhelming international forces building in support of a Palestinian state and U.N. membership.

The two-state solution may well be on the line as well. As former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin warned recently, Israel is "approaching a point of no return." Against this backdrop, Kerry's great challenge is to apply some Kissinger muscle. Putting the full-court press on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, however, is going to require a little more media savvy.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Feature

Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

Greece's Unemployed Young

Stephen Faris • Businessweek

When there are too few jobs for an entire generation.

Nikos Kotsalos, 33, has been unemployed since November 2011, when he lost his back-office job at the national postal service. Until then he had never been without a job for more than a few months. In September he expects to finish an undergraduate degree in physics from the National University of Athens -- a credential that's barely sufficient to get an entry-level job. (To cite one example, the government recently announced it will be laying off all university security guards, except those with a master's degree or a Ph.D.) "Sometimes we are angry. Sometimes we are sad," says Kotsalos. "I'm 33. It's not normal that I live with my parents. My father, when he was 33, he already had two children."

For young Greek adults, the sense that their lives have been put on hold is palpable. Rare is the conversation that ends on a happy note. "It's not only a financial crisis," says Marianina Patsa, a 34-year-old Athens resident. "It also has a severe psychological impact. People feel like they're losers."

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images

When 772 Pitches Isn't Enough

Chris Jones • ESPN the Magazine

The fate of a star 16-year-old pitcher in Japan.

Then his manager, Joko, makes some vague, almost invisible gesture, and Anraku releases his customary acceptance of command -- a chest-thumping shout that starts deep in his gut -- bowing to his manager before he sprints to the mound.

And while this might sound like mythmaking, like some hinterland baseball legend that's told by scouts to their children to explain why they are never home, this is a true account of what happens next:

The entire field goes silent. Not quiet. Quiet is not a strong enough word to describe this instant temple. It goes dead silent. What had been a consistent, heavy chatter just stops. Anraku's teammates, the opposing players in their dugout, the umpires, the mothers and fathers and tea-brewing booster club up on the hill -- nobody says a word. Nobody claps or chants or boos. An opposing player noiselessly pulls out a radar gun, but nobody else moves. Even the two girls, gripped tight against the rightfield fence, stop their lovesick parade.

Suddenly, there is a monster in their midst. He nods at his catcher, a tiny, brave boy built like a whippet. Anraku's huge hands lift slowly over his head, and he starts his big, leggy delivery, classically Japanese, a full-body unwinding that culminates in a fastball thrown right down the throats of every last person here.

Wunkai/Flickr

Boys and Girls

Andrew O'Hagan • London Review of Books

Inside a Kandahar detention center for child jihadis.

Beltoon was told that the index finger of his right hand was the Shahadat, the finger of 'witness', the digit of Allah. He was told he must use this finger on the suicide vest to be sure of his place in paradise. He must be sure to flick the switch firmly with this finger. (A Unicef worker explained: 'When the Kalima-e-Shahadat is said in Tashahhud during the prayer, all the fingers except the index should be lightly closed like a fist, keeping the thumb with the middle finger in a circle. It is sunnah - following what the Prophet did - to raise the index finger.') In this way the mentors suggest that what they are doing is part of an Islamic ritual and Beltoon was convinced he had found the best way to raise himself to the pinnacle of respect and into a life much greater than this one.

Beltoon was close to a boy called Sahim, also 15. After six months in Quetta they were driven to a local house in Kandahar province for further 'initiation'. They got to know the location where they would do their holy work. Sahim appeared to have no end of enthusiasm for the planned attack. He enjoyed speaking to Beltoon about the logistics. He couldn't wait. Early in 2012 the boys were dropped off on a street near the American base. They were walking side by side and saying nothing when an Afghan soldier near the entrance to the base saw them. They seemed unsure what to do -- Sahim pushed Beltoon and they argued for a moment -- and the soldier ordered them to stop and he summoned other military. The boys' suicide vests were removed on the spot and that night they were taken to the detention centre in Kandahar. Beltoon hasn't seen his mother again but a message was sent to him encouraging him not to give up hope. ‘Maybe next time,' she said.

HAMED ZALMY/AFP/Getty Images

The Whale's Return

Philip Hoare • Aeon

On the surprising comeback of the North Atlantic right whale, one of the world's most endangered animals.

Up close, right whales look prehistoric, with an indefinable series of lumps crowned with a crusted 'bonnet' -- callosities that grow in unique patterns on a whale's head, approximately where hair sprouts on a human head. These are the tools of Mayo's trade: the patterns are distinctive enough to let researchers identify individual animals. As Shearwater transected the bay, the researchers Christy Hudak and Beth Larson wielded a plankton net, trawling for the telltale count of Calanus finmarchicus. The little plastic sample jars swirled with pink clouds of the zooplankton, like soup. In an attempt to empathise with our subjects, I fished out a fingerful of copepods and tasted them. A faint sea-salt oiliness lingered on the tongue. Not exactly a bouillabaisse, but it sustains leviathans.

On deck, Lauren Bamford and Brigid recorded the blows that were erupting all around us. I clambered up to join the two women. Every few minutes, a new whale popped up, its crusty head and sea-slick body glinting in the sun. 'They're acting cryptically,' said Brigid. 'Sub-surface feeding.' For some reason, their prey had sunk to three or five metres below the surface. Why? That was up to Stormy and his team to discover.

MyFWC Research/Flickr

Death on the Nile

Ned Parker • Foreign Policy

How the discovery of a drowned man led to communal violence in a small Egyptian town.

Habib Noshi Habib heard the shouts outside his home. A cousin phoned him. "The town is on fire," he warned.

Soon the mob streamed into Habib's house, wielding metal rods, shovels, and knives. He counted more than 50 intruders, and even recognized two of them -- men who had been close to his family for 40 years. Habib saw policemen standing outside the house, doing nothing to stop the crowds. He swears he heard a policeman exhort the crowd: "Hurry up and finish it off." Whether the policeman's words were real or imagined, Habib was sure the area's Muslims wanted them dead. He watched as the mob hunted down his older brother, Moharib, and started to pummel him with their makeshift weapons.

Habib ran for the basement and shut himself in. Moments later, the crowd shouted: "There is no God but God."

AMGAD FUAD/AFP/Getty Images

For daily picks from around the web, check out Longform or download Longform for iPad.