If an alien were to follow Israel politics and the media in the last several weeks, he’d be convinced that John Kerry is indeed Israel’s greatest enemy.
In reality, Israel’s greatest-ever strategic, political and security asset is its relationship with the US. This relationship represents Israel’s most enduring, cost-effective, force-multiplying and monumental foreign policy achievement since 1948. The invaluable contribution this relationship made to Israel’s security, diplomatic standing and deterrence power cannot be exaggerated.
But in Israel there seems to be a small group of people that either casually takes this relationship for granted or irresponsibly doesn’t really and deeply understand it. This group is collectively known as “the government.”
After exhausting Iran’s usefulness as “the enemy,” this group found a new nemesis: John Kerry.
Enemy of the state.
Not since Vespasian and Titus in 68-70 CE or the British high commissioners until 1948 has a foreign representative been the subject of such scorn, criticism, accusations and rude personal attacks. Twenty-eight years as a US senator, including the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, an impeccable voting record on Israel-related issues, and John Kerry had no idea he was so anti-Israel. So much so that he is accused of entertaining anti-Semitic ideas, no less.
Never in the annals of the US-Israel relationship has there been a more concerted, orchestrated, coarse, reckless frontal attack on an American secretary of state. William Rogers (actually, an under secretary), Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Warren Christopher and Hillary Clinton were all subjected to various unflattering remarks and harsh criticism, but no secretary was ever attacked on a personal and substantive level as Kerry has been in the past several weeks.
This against the background of Kerry’s proposed, yet to be published or officially divulged framework agreement, or set of principles, that are to govern the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the next year.
Kerry’s framework will hardly be the reinvention of sliced bread. It will, to a large degree, resemble Bill Clinton’s Parameters, published upon him leaving office in January 2001 and summarizing the Camp David ideas and talks of July 2000 and Ehud Olmert’s dialogue and exchange of papers and maps with Mahmud Abbas in 2008.
Kerry is rehashing and reciting what are perceived to be the known principles of the two-state solution. He is expending energy and exercising a very active foreign policy, but nothing in what he is expected to present should come as a surprise to Israel.
The fact that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is averse and reluctant to accept these principles is perfectly legitimate.
But he had ample time, five years to be exact, to present his own vision of an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation to the Obama administration. The fact that he chose not to does not justify attacking Kerry on the grounds of sacrificing Israeli security.
But in the parallel, logic-perfect universe that the Israeli right wing cohabits with itself, such principles are received as total shock and awe. Dismantling settlements? You can’t be serious. This is the end of Zionism.
The Israeli Left, known for its delusional “If we build it, they will come” approach to the Palestinian issue, is not really demanding answers from Netanyahu, but just assuming he should either accept Kerry’s framework and roll over or go bust.
The question is, are these wild attacks on Kerry a reflection of Israeli politicians’ known lack of style, discipline and propensity to scream and yell for their domestic constituencies, or do they represent and express a broader issue. While the US is not retreating into isolationism, there is a discernible trend of disengagement from the Middle East.
Observing Kerry’s efforts on Iran and on the Palestinian issue and listening to the US’s denials of such disengagement, you could be excused for thinking that business in the US-Middle East relationship is as usual, but essentially it is being revisited and transformed gradually.
First, the US is on the verge of energy independence, reducing its reliance and imports of Mideast oil to zero.
Second, the US is scarred, bruised, hemorrhaging and fatigued with the region, given Iraq, Afghanistan, endless challenges in the Arab world and no successes that advance or sustain vital US interests.
Third, the US looks at the Middle East and sees that the three dominant powers are non-Arab: Israel, Iran and Turkey.
In other words, what is in it for the US to continue investing resources, energy and power in the region? Last, and most important, the US is shifting its priorities to the Far East, because that is where the challenges of the next decade or more will emanate from.
So when a US secretary of state is willing to invest so much time, prestige, strategic capital and American power in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, he should be appreciated and commended, even when you disagree with his idea. Otherwise, he and his successor may choose to disengage, and consequently, the US-Israeli alliance will weaken and crack. Calling him names and accusing him of being anti-Israel is not only untrue, it is plain stupid.
The writer was consul-general in New York and adviser to four foreign ministers. He is currently a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum.