Secretary of State John Kerry's plan – and timeline – for a comprehensive Mideast peace treaty nine months after negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders were reignited was perhaps overly exuberant, but the concept of a grand bargain is a good one. The numerous regional crises – Egypt's fledgling democratization, Syria's civil dissolution, Iran's nuclear program – share links to a common concern: the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. This is true not just politically, but also diplomatically, as it is the crux of US leverage in the other disputes. Without real strides in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, subsequent diplomatic breakthroughs in these other areas are unlikely.
A comprehensive accord is the right goal. But to achieve any solvency, it is imperative to start small. Although it is tempting to focus on big-ticket questions, such as Palestinian sovereignty, claims to Jerusalem, and the "right of return" of displaced Palestinians, in fact the core of the conflict pertains to its lived aspects – the "facts on the ground." For Israelis, this means violence, and the shroud of fear under which citizens live their lives; for Palestinians, this means settlements and checkpoints that have incapacitated Palestinian businesses and divided families.
In short, the most important issues – the structural and emotional core of the conflict – remain neglected. Indeed, on both accounts, conditions have gotten worse.
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