IF YOU happen to bump into John Kerry at Ben Gurion Airport, you may wonder whether he is coming or going. He may well be wondering himself.
For many weeks now he has been devoting most of his precious time to meetings with Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, trying to get these two people together.
It is about half an hour's car ride between the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem and the Palestinian President's Mukata'ah in Ramallah. But the two are more distant from each other than the Earth and Mars.
Kerry has taken it upon himself to bring the two together -- perhaps somewhere in outer space. On the moon, for example.
TOGETHER FOR what?
Ah, there's the rub. The idea seems to be a meeting for meeting's sake.
We have watched this procedure for many years. Successive American presidents have undertaken to bring the two sides together. It is an American belief, rooted in Anglo-Saxon tradition, that if two reasonable, decent people get together to thrash out their differences, everything will fall into place. It's almost automatic: meet -- talk -- agree.
Unfortunately, it does not quite work this way with conflicts between nations, conflicts that may have deep historical roots. In meetings between leaders of such nations, they often just want to hurl old accusations at each other, with the aim of convincing the world that the other side is utterly depraved and despicable.
Either side, or both, may be interested in prolonging the meetings forever. The world sees the leaders meeting, the mediator and the photographers working hard, everybody talking endlessly of peace, peace, peace.
I remember a Scandinavian gentleman named Gunnar Jarring. Remember him? No? Don't blame yourself. He is eminently forgettable. A well-meaning Swedish diplomat (and Turkologist), he was asked by the UN in the early 1970s to bring the Egyptians and Israelis together and to achieve a peaceful settlement between them.
Jarring took his historic mission very seriously. He shuttled tirelessly between Cairo and Jerusalem. His name became a joke in Israel, and probably in Egypt, too.
The protagonists in those days were Anwar Sadat and Golda Meir. As we disclosed at the time, Sadat gave Jarring a momentous message: in return for getting back all of the Sinai peninsula, conquered by Israel in 1967, he was ready to make peace. Golda rejected this proposal out of hand. There was, of course, no meeting.
(A popular joke doing the rounds had Golda and Sadat facing each other from opposite banks of the Suez Canal. Golda shouted: "Make Love not War!" Sadat looked at her through his binoculars and replied: "Better war!")
Everybody knows how this chapter ended. After Golda had rejected everything, Sadat attacked, won an initial surprise victory, the whole political world started to move, Golda was kicked out, and after four years of Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin came to power and agreed the same peace with Sadat that had been proposed before the war. The 3,000 Israeli soldiers and around 10,000 Egyptians who died in the war did not see it.
Jarring, by the way, died in 2002, unsung and forgotten.
KERRY IS no Jarring. First of all, because he does not represent a powerless international organization, but the World's Only Superpower. The full might of the United States of America is at his disposal.