Someone better tell US Secretary of State John Kerry about his new clothes. That
allusion may be overused, but when was there last such a high-ranking politician
who pursued so ambitious a policy, parading it before all the world, while just
about everyone watching knew he would fail? With most other grandiose political
efforts at least some segment of the public believes success is possible, or
that the official line is indeed correct. Not so with Kerry’s inexplicably
frantic push for peace.
Newspaper headlines question whether Kerry is a
He is said to lack both “buy-in” and faith from Israelis
and Palestinians alike. Haaretz
characterized Kerry as trying to “push [a] stone
up the hill,” a metaphor that may have been more apt for the peace process then
the editor realized: It derives from the Greek myth of Sisyphus being cursed to
push a boulder up a hill in Hades. Upon reaching the top, the giant rock falls
back to the bottom and Sisyphus must repeat the process for
Indeed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been mostly cool
to Kerry’s efforts and a large portion of his coalition opposes the two-state
solution as such. Most Israelis, as Kerry lamented, are busy enjoying Israel’s
relative economic strength and the quiet secured by the IDF, and are more
concerned with domestic issues.
For their part, the Palestinians refuse
to negotiate and are busy blaming Israel for it. As should have been expected,
they have taken Kerry’s efforts as an opportunity to create such a lengthy list
of preconditions it is unclear what issues they expect to deal with in actual
Perhaps the party whose buy-in is most noticeably absent,
however, is Kerry’s boss, President Barack Obama.
Almost every recent
peace plan has carried the personal mark of the president of the United
And typically he has had some reason to believe his investment
would pay off.
For presidents Carter and Clinton, the parties to the
conflict had initiated the process. Both presidents Bush had just demonstrated
the extent of American might in the region and had neutralized a top fomenter of
President George W. Bush’s second- term efforts
also came after Israel’s Disengagement, and he had Israel’s trust and an eager
Israeli prime minister telling him a peace agreement could be
President Obama, who came into office intending to make Israeli-
Palestinian peace a top priority, was riding a wave of global
His conciliatory tone to the Muslim world was thought to have
garnered him some credibility and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the
express purpose of encouraging him to pursue peace.
He also had a team of
heavy hitters – his secretary of state, vice president, chief of staff, and
special envoy – ready to pressure Israel with demands firm enough to sound like
But even Obama lost hope and during his recent visit to Israel
he almost left the peace process off the agenda. His remarks on the necessity of
peace in Jerusalem bore the mark of a man who has been defeated but insists on
having the last word – and even that included an admission that peace was
When Obama spoke in Ramallah, he referred to Kerry’s upcoming
efforts distantly, as though they were Kerry’s independent initiative, saying,
“And I know that Secretary of State John Kerry intends to spend significant
time, effort, and energy in trying to bring about a closing of the gap between
Even if Kerry is following Obama’s orders, the fact that
Obama has subcontracted to Kerry what he himself once pursued so vigorously is
an indication of how Obama assesses the chances for success.
Obama’s apparent disengagement from the process, the region has changed
drastically for the worse. Once reliable Egypt is now ruled by anti-Israel
Syria is in the throes of civil war. It is feared that even
Jordan may be susceptible to revolution. And even before the “Arab Spring,”
Hezbollah was entrenched in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. More than ever before
there is reason to believe signing a peace agreement cannot yield
So with Obama divested of the peace process, circumstances
particularly ill-suited for peace, and more obviously pressing issues like the
Syrian civil war looming, why is Kerry so completely immersing himself in
reviving negotiations? What makes him think he’ll succeed where Obama failed?
The preposterousness of Kerry’s efforts begs the question of whether Kerry
himself believes he can succeed. One might be led to believe it’s just some kind
of sideshow to distract from some other policy.
But it’s not, as Kerry
displayed the extent of his sincerity with his impassioned speech at the
American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum. There he pleaded with the audience to
use their influence to get Israel to the negotiating table and to not let the
figurative door “literally” slam shut on the peace process. In the face of the
new regional landscape and understandable skepticism, Kerry declared that he
nevertheless “firmly believe[s] that this is a hopeful time, if we choose to
make it so.” It is just too hard to fake such naïveté.
That naïveté comes
at a particularly dangerous time. The scaling back of the war on terror while
al- Qaida rises anew, the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, the failure to
anticipate the “Arab Spring” and the late-in-the-game dumping of ally Hosni
Mubarak, and the lynching of the American ambassador in Benghazi have all
signaled a decline in US influence in the region.
Beyond that US policy
on Syria is indecisive, despite the growing death toll and evidence of chemical
weapons use by Bashar Assad.
That indecision is understandable given the
Islamist nature of the rebel forces, but the president has already committed the
US to a side by calling on Assad to step down and having assisted in supplying
the rebels with arms.
At the same time Russia has made it clear that it
will back Assad by providing weapons like the S- 300 anti-aircraft system meant
to deter Western intervention. That the tide seems to be turning in Assad’s
favor means that for the first time in decades Russian arms might be said to be
beating American arms.
If they did, that would be a significant blow to
US prestige, at a time when US global leadership is increasingly
With US influence spiraling downwards and the Hezbollah-
Assad-Iran alliance believing itself immune from attack, Hezbollah will be
emboldened in igniting another round of conflict with Israel while Iran would be
emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
So while Kerry’s efforts
may be laughable, for all of our sakes someone ought to let him in on the joke,
so he can concentrate his energy and US attention where they might do some good
instead of compounding the problem with another US failure.The author is
an attorney and a Likud central committee member.