Congratulations to John Kerry on his taking office as secretary of state of the
President Barack Obama could not have made a better choice
than a man who was himself close to being in the Oval Office, a liberal democrat
from Massachusetts with bipartisan support, a champion of human rights and
democracy who understands all too well the might of the United States as leader
of the free world, a true American and a cosmopolitan man who fathoms the
On the new secretary of state’s agenda are issues of
great importance to America’s strategic national interests and its posture in
the world – the critical relationships with Russia and China, with differences
of political and economic interests, and a common desire for collective
diplomacy; the proliferation of non-conventional weapons in Iran, North Korea and
even with terrorist organizations in the Middle East is a very high priority, as
is the related issue of the spread of Islamic fundamentalism by Tehran and
al-Qaida and their allies in the Middle East and Africa.
State Kerry faces a formidable challenge of dealing with a world in
• A world in which the military clout of the United States plays
less of a role and in which the weak have become undeterred and lethal, such as
Osama bin Laden, who from ancient caves, attacked the bastions of the modern
free world on 9/11.
• A world in which pro-Western dictators are either
out of office or mostly irrelevant due to the growing empowerment of the people
by the information revolution. There is more democracy, on every
continent, than ever before.
• A world in which citizens and societies
are more interconnected and empowered, and are able to create new coalitions of
common interests and values.
• A world with greater interdependence and
still enormous inequalities.
• A world in which there is a global public
opinion that is more on the side of the deprived than of the mighty.
this changing world, it is not enough for the United States to rely solely on
its military might, as we witnessed recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor can it
rely on shipping military hardware, or even economic aid, to pro-American
dictators, as was the case with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. In the 21st century,
American foreign policy needs to seek international legitimacy, with both
individual citizens and societies. Its global interests are served best
therefore by the creation of international coalitions and collective diplomacy,
based on America’s clout as the leading economic power, with its unique
intellectual capacities and democratic values.
Building bridges to
potential partners today depends more on a combination of goodwill, shared
interests and domestic legitimacies.
This is a world in need of an
innovative American diplomacy, and it seems that John Kerry, under Obama, is the
right person for the job.
And then comes the Middle East peace process.
John Kerry will be told by Middle East veterans, advisers and friends in America
and the region: “Hands off!” in so many ways, from “this is a recipe for
failure;” and “do not become a frequent flyer on the useless Middle East
shuttle;” to advice from Israelis: “There is no reliable Palestinian partner,”
and from Arabs: “There is an Israeli partner only for settlement
All this well-meaning advice will be shortsighted, selfish
and wrong. It is up to the secretary of state to create an innovative American
strategy for Middle Eastern peace and security.
Such a strategy has to
recognize the centrality of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for
several important reasons and in light of several premises: The people’s voice –
a new American diplomatic strategy in the region must also take into
consideration the change brought about by the Arab Spring.
America will not come about solely from pro-Western leaders, as the Arab world
has turned inward: The voice of the city squares is today more relevant than the
proclamations from seats of government.
Tahrir is alive and kicking, as
President Mohamed Morsi is experiencing. Arab public opinion, mainly that of the
young who constitute more than 60 percent of Arabs, is critical, if not hostile,
toward America, due to its perceived imposition of its political systems and
values on the region, and its one-sided policy on Israel. The hearts and minds
of young Arabs are moved in terms of their regional perceptions and by the fate
of their Palestinian brethren under Israeli occupation.
On the other
hand, they are also, on certain levels, open to America with an affinity toward
the “American Dream,” as represented by Silicon Valley and Massachusetts
In Israel, too, the vox populi has become more relevant, as
proven by the Rothschild Boulevard protests and the protest vote against Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in favor of parties which claim to represent the
middle class. For war, or peace, Israeli leaders will have to listen more than
before to the pulse of their constituencies. Israelis want a better and more
affordable life with greater professional and educational opportunities. This is
not served by war and conflict.
Therefore, any American strategy in the
region has to be built on a combination of American interests and regional
A Middle East coalition
The Middle East is wavering between
fundamentalism and pragmatism. The Arab Spring revolutions were led chiefly by
young activists without political affiliation, and to a large degree were later
hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and similarly oriented Islamic parties, with
pro-Iranian Shia fundamentalists and Sunni violent radicalism in the
America must work with the relative pragmatists in power,
even among the Islamists, to create a coalition against fundamentalism,
extremism and terror. Such a coalition of interests is central to the defeat of
fundamentalist, violent forces, and its creation is to a large degree dependent
on an American policy that is actively engaged in an Israeli-Palestinian peace
Israel the No. 1 ally
At the same time, America has to signal
its full support for its No. 1 ally and friend in the region, the State of
Israel. Israel’s real security needs cannot be compromised in a region that
suffers from Islamic extremism and hateful rejection of the Jewish
The very maintenance of Israel as a Jewish democracy, given the
demographic reality, depends on the realization of a two-state solution. The
United States must favor a strong Israel, and a strong Israel is an Israel at
peace with agreed, recognized and secure borders.
No status quo
advocate a hands-off policy do not understand that the Middle East is at a
A war scenario is definitely possible, given Iranian
aspirations to arm and strengthen Hamas and Hezbollah; so is the possibility of
a third Palestinian intifada, given the Palestinians’ despair of a political
solution. These dangers can and must be confronted by a regional coalition
united against the extremists and a viable peace process. A continuation of the
status quo is, in fact, the only scenario which is not realistic. The reality is
a choice between peace and war.
America highly values
its global posture, as it wants and needs to build bridges of interests to
China, Russia, Japan and the EU. An America perceived as a strong player for
peace and stability in the Middle East will be able to engage in global
coalition building and collective diplomacy.
Motivated by these
considerations, the new secretary of state should engage in an active Middle
East peace policy, based on several principles and elements:
• Launching a
comprehensive, ongoing public diplomacy campaign to engage in a dialogue with
the young generation in the Middle East – the generation of change – including
the use of new media tools and social media. In this dialogue the United States
should explain what it stands for in terms of values and policies; it has to
engage with what Middle Easterners claim is lacking – listening; and in
parallel, activate educational programs offering the best that America
• At the policy level, John Kerry should listen to the Israeli and
Arab leaders in the region, to their interests, hopes and grievances, but not to
their creative manipulations as to how to maneuver the United States to their
side or toward policies that will sustain the stalemate.
• America is in
need of its own clear regional policy, one which reflects its strategic security
interests, as well as the most basic interests of the parties. Therefore, within
a reasonable period of time, the administration should develop its own policy
platform or, in other words, turn the Obama speech of 2009 into the Obama Plan
• Presidential involvement is necessary for any successful peace
strategy, thus President Obama should invite Netanyahu and Abu Mazen (Mahmoud
Abbas), possibly with the president of Egypt and the king of Jordan, to
Washington, to open direct, bilateral negotiations, and at some stage visit the
• During the negotiations period, Israel needs to refrain from
settlement expansion (except building warranted by basic needs) and the
Palestinian Authority has to engage in a pro-active anti-terror policy in
cooperation with Israel. These policies must be motivated by
• There has to be a clear timeline for negotiations of all
permanent-status issues, such as an 18-month period for negotiations, and an
additional three-year period of implementation. The negotiations should take
place in the region and periodically in Washington.
permanent-status issues will be on the table and negotiated, based on previous
accords between the parties, and the Obama vision.
• In parallel to these
talks, the administration should engage in a dialogue with Israel on its basic
security needs, also given new developments resulting from the peace process,
and from other developments in the region, to ensure all of Israel’s security
needs and its qualitative and technological edge. With the permanent status, an
American-Israeli defense pact should be considered.
• The administration
must also engage in dialogue and cooperation with the Palestinian leadership on
the basic nation-building needs, economic and institutional, of the future
Palestinian state. With the permanent status, the parties will then consider a
long-term economic agreement.
• A new component should be added to the
permanent- status issues – the relationship and cooperation between the Israeli
and Palestinian societies in all relevant spheres of life, i.e., a
people-to-people relationship, to make the peace process into an inclusive
process of reconciliation and cooperation – a peace for the
Kerry, as an experienced leader, will develop his own peace
initiatives for the region; what, however, is of critical importance is that he
will have a peace plan and a modus operandi. It is important that he places the
region on his travel plans early and therefore high on his list of priorities.
When he comes here, he should be welcomed as a friend and a man of
From the outset, he should make it clear that while he is indeed a
friend, he represents the strategic interests of the United States, and will not
tolerate, from foes or friends, any harm to them; that he is here both to listen
and to express a forthright opinion on the necessary progress toward peace, and
that he will also engage in a dialogue with the people of the region, as peace
in the Middle East is, above all, their interest.
The writer is president
of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the