US Secretary of State John Kerry in Cairo at the Gaza donors conference.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Speaking at an event marking the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha at the US State Department last week, Secretary of State John Kerry said that “fighting” for Israeli-Palestinian peace was “more important than ever.”
“As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL [Islamic State] coalition, the truth is that there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Kerry said.
“It was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to. And people need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity, and Id celebrates the opposite of all that,” he continued.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan were quick to exceed the bounds of their responsibilities by lambasting Kerry for his comments and unnecessarily stoking embers of a rift with the US.
The secretary of state may have been wrong to accept without challenge the claim that the atrocities committed by Islamic State terrorists – beheadings, sexual slavery, the mass murder of minorities and of fellow Muslims – are in any way the result of frustration with Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank.
Still, his comments were undoubtedly an honest reflection of the statements he heard from Arab and Muslim leaders as he worked in recent weeks to build a coalition against Islamic State. Kerry was not sharing his opinion on the connection – or lack thereof – between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Islamic State.
Kerry undoubtedly agrees, like the majority of Israelis, that peace with the Palestinians is an imperative in the long run. Nevertheless, he should have considered the ramifications of the argument he was repeating.
Let us assume that the regional leaders who spoke with Kerry are right. Many Muslims, especially the younger generation, are extremely angry with Israel because of its refusal to evacuate all territories it captured in the Six Day War.
They are angry with Israel for refusing to allow Palestinian refugees and their descendants to “return” to their homes.
They are angry with Israel for insisting that Jews retain access to all parts of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
But then Islamists are angry about a lot of things. Westerners – including the Americans Kerry represents – would have to take quite a few drastic steps to escape the stern disapproval of this season’s variety of holy warriors.
For instance, the US and other anti-Islamic State coalition partners such as Germany, Italy and Britain would have to stop protecting the Kurds, the Christians, the Yazidis and the Turkmen whom Islamic State terrorists have been persecuting.
Clearly, Western involvement in the war enrages Islamic extremists who want to see the creation in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region of a caliphate based on an extremist, medieval version of Muslim governance.
Muslim radicals are angry at US “imperialism.” They are angry at the West for providing freedom of expression that allows authors such as Salman Rushdie to depict Islam in a critical way or that enables a Danish newspaper to print a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. Hindus selling drinks to Christians in the presence of unchaperoned girls in Bali make them angry. Muslims following syncretic and tolerant forms of Islam – not the pure, desert- based truths of Salafism and Wahhabism – make them angry. So does the French ban on veils. And this is far from an exhaustive list.
But it is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that regional leaders told Kerry is of the utmost importance in the fight against Islamic State, because of the “street anger” and “agitation” it is causing.
Islamic fundamentalists are, like all extremists, exceptionally angry people. And this anger is undoubtedly genuine.
But the extent and sincerity of one’s anger says nothing about whether it is justified. No nation or individual should be forced or persuaded to do anything for the sake of appeasing the anger of another. Rewarding bad behavior only reinforces it.
Kerry has said on numerous occasions that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that includes mutual respect and recognition is in Israel’s best interests. We – and most Israelis – agree. This should be the motivation for resuming peace negotiations, not the desire to appease extremist Arab states or angry, radical Muslims.