American Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel on Sunday after a weekend of meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships that failed to produce an agreement on the re-launch of diplomatic talks between the two sides.
In an attempt to salvage his visit, Mr Kerry tried to achieve a list of “terms of reference” for an agenda anticipating talks, in order to deliver some assurances to the Obama administration, but even that proved too much.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas demanded that the declaration would include an Israeli commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, a demand Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected. For their part, the Palestinians refused the Israeli condition that, at the end of the negotiations, the Palestinians would recognise the Jewish state and agree to end their claims.
Further, while Israel was prepared to commit not to build in the West Bank outside the large settlement blocs, the Palestinians demanded a total building freeze.
The Israelis also wanted the Palestinians not to continue unilaterally seeking international recognition of a Palestinian state and to desist from trying to have Israel indicted in the international criminal court in The Hague.
Despite such obstacles, Mr Kerry remained upbeat even after this fifth trip to the region in four months. “We have made real progress,” he told reporters, “and I believe that, with a little more work, the start of final-status negotiations could be within reach.”
While Mr Netanyahu has publicly committed to a two-state solution, de-facto frozen building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and agreed to release Palestinian prisoners, he is not prepared to give up on his security demands and a final-status recognition of the Jewish state. Mr Abbas is insisting on formal assurances on the subjects of borders and settlements.
There is growing criticism in Washington of Mr Kerry for spending so much time on the Israel-Palestine conflict while there are so many other issues demanding his attention.
But he is due back in the region in a few weeks and, meanwhile, two of his senior aides have remained and will continue to shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah.