WASHINGTON — For all of the intricacies of issues like the shape of future borders, security arrangements and the status of Jerusalem, the Middle East peace talks that resumed Monday night are dominated by two simple questions: If it took Secretary of State John Kerry countless phone calls and six trips to the Middle East just to get Israeli and Palestinian officials to the negotiating table, how will it be possible to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement? And what will happen if his herculean negotiating efforts fall short?
...In making the revival of the Middle East talks his top priority, Mr. Kerry is not only challenging the status quo in the region but also taking on the conventional wisdom in much of the American foreign policy establishment...
Some experts argue that it may be risky even to try.
“The existence of talks can have a calming effect while they continue...But I see no realistic possibility that a final status agreement can be reached now,” Mr. Abrams said.
“I just hope there are two State Department teams: one to work on the talks, and the other to start planning for what to do when they fail...."
...While the talks are initially expected to focus on procedural issues, like the location, schedule and format of negotiating sessions, they are already beginning to take on a last-ditch quality.
One area Mr. Kerry and his critics appear to agree on is that having made Middle East peacemaking his top priority, the secretary of state has raised the stakes so much that if this effort collapses, it will be a long time before anybody tries again.
...Hussein Agha, a senior associate member of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University, said ... “If it is not done now, it will not be done for a long, long time.”
*Michael R. Gordon reported from Washington, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.