The timing of John Kerry's visit to Israel and Palestine was not made in heaven.

 
From what we know, he came prepared to press Israel to make concessions to Palestinians, and to press Palestinians to stop the violence.
 
He may have thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu was prepared to be forthcoming.
 
If he thought that, however, he doesn't understand Netanyahu the way we do, and he doesn't understand Israel. If Bibi would make a significant gesture now, he could lose his government and there'd be a good chance that he'd lose control of Likud and his job as Prime Minister.
 
And if that wasn't enough, Turkey shot down a Russian war plane..
 
Kerry may have been distracted by greater things, but he seemed to get nowhere here. We've heard that Netanyahu offered to trade Israel's concessions for construction among the Palestinians in exchange for the Obama administration's recognition of Israel's major settlement blocs.
 
Kerry refused.
 
Either as a result, or from the get-go, Netanyahu is reported to have told Kerry that they'll be no Israeli concessions to Palestinians until the violence stops.
 
We hear that this counters suggestions from ranking Israeli security personnel,i.e., that Abbas is cooperating to reign in his people, deserves more weapons for his forces, as well as other concessions.
 
Politics counts, and lots of Israelis, including opposition Jewish MKs, have been supporting a harder line with the Palestinians. 
 
It's all complicated by the violence coming from unorganized individuals, being incited by Hamas and other extremists Islamic movements. Abbas also joins in public incitement and the condemnation of Israeli murder of young people (who attack with knives and guns), even while he tells his security people to calm things.
 
What we've gotten from the State Department since Kerry left is another dose of the lecture that Israel and Palestine must settle their differences, peacefully and completely, before they escalate out of control.
 
Perhaps the Americans haven't noticed that the region is already out of control, and its major problems have nothing to do with Palestine or Israel.
 
The Turkish-Russian incident is likely to be more important, and certainly more thrilling than the boring old stuff of Israeli-Palestine-Obama-Kerry-Netanyahu
 
Publicly, the Americans sided with the Turks. We can hope that the Americans have been tough with the Turks privately. From what we know, the Russian plane was 20,000 feet over a tiny slice of Turkey for a total of 17 seconds, and not in an attack mode. Turkey claims to have warned the pilot ten times, but the surviving navigator denies hearing any warning. By the time the Turkish missile reached the Russian plane, it had already left Turkish air space.
 
Against Turkish bombastic defense of their border, there is a long list of Russian incursions into British or Scandinavian air- and sea-space that passed with the sending forth of British planes or Scandinavian ships, but no violence.
 
What'll be interesting, and potentially dangerous, is watching two hard ball players, both with considerable military assets, but one with a lot more than the other.  
 
Russia controls a fair amount of the gas that goes to Turkey. The Turkish exit from the Black Sea and the Russian ports in the Black Sea suggest a renewal of historic tensions. 
 
Turkish-Russian enmity and competition is long and complex. Currently it involves sharp differences with respect to Assad and his regime, and which rebels should be aided or destroyed in Syria. 
 
Turkey is said to be a major source of support for the Islamic State, providing much of its money via the purchase of oil taken from areas it currently controls. 
 
The US sides with Turkey in its posture against Assad, but shouldn't be happy with Turkey's support of the Islamic State.
 
Turkey's President claims that reports of his country buying oil from the Islamic State is Russian propaganda. 
 
Remember where we are. British racists will say that the wogs are quarreling.
 
The Russians have stopped the flow of their tourists to the Turkish coast, and shifted imports of food from Turkey to other sources. Russian aircraft increased their attacks in Syria alongside the Turkish borders, including an attack on a Turkish column providing supplies to groups fighting Assad. 
 
For the US, this is another source of problems in a region that is already boiling out of its control. Palestine has been reduced to small change, although it is not clear that the White House/State Department recognizes that.
 
Bigger change is involved in the threat to Europe coming from the Islamic State and its wannabes, along with the stream of refugees flowing to Europe, the US and elsewhere from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. Several countries are closing their borders, announcing that they must increase their review of individuals asking for refuge, or saying that their reception centers are overloaded. US Republicans are demanding restraint, but the ever humane White House of Barack Obama is holding with its commitment to take 10,000. 
 
Syria and Iraq continue to boil out of control, and they are a large piece of what is roiling everything else. Libya, Nigeria, Mali, and the Sinai aren't far behind. 
 
Now the ghosts of Russian-Turkey historic tensions are awake, aroused by competition in Syria and shaken by the clumsiness of Turkish politicians or the hot fingers of low level military personnel. Turkey is warning of Russia against attacking a Turkmen Syrian ethnic group with cultural ties to Turkey whose fighters--according to reports--murdered the Russian pilot who parachuted. Those folks are likely to be high on Russia's list for revenge. 
 
We should all remember that Putin is the man who took the Crimea from Ukraine and seems to be on the way to taking other parts of Ukraine.
 
Let's hope the Turks are up to keeping their powder dry, that the US can dampen its own temptations to assert itself alongside a problematic NATO ally against the Russians in a heroic replay of the Cold War, and that Putin's appetite is limited..
 
For all that to happen, however, Americans at the top will have to show a greater sense of realism than they have demonstrated here.
 
As always, comments welcome.


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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