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Kerry announces breakthrough on Mideast peace process

State Department photo

Secretary of State John Kerry has been in office for a little less than six months, and in that time, he's made six trips to the Middle East in the hopes of renewing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. This included a private dinner on Tuesday evening with Mahmoud Abbas, and discussions with Arab League diplomats and King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday.

And while this hasn't generated much interest from the political world, Kerry's diligence has been pretty remarkable. Earlier this month, the Secretary of State was in Israel for four days, leading "the most intense Middle East peace push in years." He left without a renewal of talks, but insisted his efforts had yielded real movement and "real progress" had been made.

At the time, skeptics scoffed. The Times of Israel's David Horovitz said three weeks ago, "This is the fifth bid by the leading diplomat of the world's superpower to persuade these two people to go into a room together, and even that he cannot achieve. At some point it becomes embarrassing and humiliating for the United States."

And yet, this afternoon, Kerry announced peace talks are prepared to resume for the first time in several years.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinians have laid the groundwork to resume stalled peace talks.

Addressing reporters before he flew back from the Jordanian capital of Amman, Kerry announced "an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis."

When it comes to the language of diplomacy, especially as it relates to the Middle East, every word tends to matter. And in this case, note that Kerry didn't say direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis are resuming; he said there's an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming those talks.

In other words, the parties have agreed to a process that leads to negotiations. Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to move forward on talks about talks.

That may sound redundant, if not a little silly, but let's not dismiss the significance out of hand -- this level of progress has been elusive since the last round of talks collapsed in 2010.

I'm not suggesting a peace deal is on the horizon -- I share the skepticism expressed by, well, everyone -- but Kerry deserves a lot of credit for this step forward.

Why? Because it was his blueprint that created the progress.

The New York Times had a good piece summarizing Kerry's approach thus far.

Mr. Abbas has for years insisted that any new talks be conducted on the basis of Israel's borders before it seized Arab territories in the 1967 war, with minor adjustments. Mr. Netanyahu has just as steadfastly refused.

To skirt that apparent stalemate, Mr. Kerry's team has tried to come up with a new framework, according to American, Israeli and Palestinian officials who have been involved in the process.

One possibility, they said, is that the United States will invite the two sides to the talks on the basis of the 1967 prewar borders and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, though Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas would not explicitly endorse those terms and might even oppose them while agreeing to negotiate.

Arab League foreign ministers found this compelling, even if PLO leaders are not yet on board.

So, what's next? Palestinian and Israeli diplomats -- specifically, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister -- are scheduled to join the Secretary in D.C. within the next week or so for initial talks, which, if constructive, would lead to a gradual series of increasingly serious talks.

For his part, President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, primarily to discuss developments in Egypt, Iran, and Syria. According to a White House statement, the president also "encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible."