The fact that Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government used the Palestinian unity pact as an excuse to pull out of negotiations with the Palestinians was very predictable. In fact, Netanyahu said many times in the past that he would do so. Why is this? Palestinian unity is what Bibi fears. As long as Hamas is outside of peace talks with Israel and is reasonably strong, it will have an inhibiting factor on Palestinian negotiating positions. This will serve as a wonderful excuse for Netanyahu not to make peace--a peace that would break up his ruling coalition. In 1999 Netanyahu lost power when a limited surrender of West Bank land to the Palestinians mediated at Wye River Plantation in October 1998 by Clinton led to a collapse of his rightist coalition. When running for reelection in 2013 Netanyahu claimed that he had learned his lesson. The lesson was not, as some in Israel thought at the time, do not form a coalition with parties of the right. Rather, it was not to agree to give up territory to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu faced a dilemma: surrender the last set of prisoners that he agreed to release and see his coalition collapse or refuse to release them and come under American pressure. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas relieved the pressure by going to the UN and then by agreeing to unity with Hamas. If Secretary of State John Kerry tries to revive the peace talks while Palestinian unity is still in its early stages he will risk killing off that unity. If the unity takes hold it will mean that President Abbas's freedom to maneuver in the talks will likely remain very limited. And as journalist David Horowitz writes,"He's no Anwar Sadat, no King Hussein."
In 1976 the great mediator Henry Kissinger discovered his limitations when he attempted to negotiate an end to the African nationalist liberation struggle in Rhodesia before the situation was ripe. There were four separate African nationalist leaders that were all struggling to be dominant. Two of them had armies and two did not. The most radical and intransigent one, Robert Mugabe, set the tone for the other three in negotiations in the fall of 1976. White settler leader Ian Smith soon left the negotiations after having agreed shortly before to majority rule in theory after being pressured by Kissinger and his South African allies. President Ford lost the presidential election, Kissinger remained in Washington during the transition. It then took another three years for the four nationalist leaders to sort out the power struggle. Two--those without armies--aligned themselves with the whites in the war. Finally the situation was ripe for mediation and a peace agreement emerged.
An effective secretary of state must know that even if his energy and goodwill are infinite, his time and political capital are very finite. They should be saved for those efforts most likely to succeed. These include the nuclear talks with Iran, NATO talks about what to do about Putin, and possible alliance talks in the Far East. Kerry should let the next secretary of state have a go at the Israelis and Palestinians.