John Kerry is a hero. He believes that peace between Israelis and Palestinians, while exceedingly difficult to achieve, is possible. He believes that both sides need peace, now. He believes that such a peace would further regional stability and would serve American interests. And he has been absolutely dogged in his pursuit of peace, despite attacks on him from every direction.
It is fascinating to review the criticism of the Secretary that comes from Jewish voices, both Israeli and American. Some has been restrained, saying that while his intentions are good, he is overreaching and does not understand Palestinian rejectionism. Some has been more extreme and personal, saying that, driven by his desire for a Nobel prize and working on behalf of an unsympathetic administration, he is pushing Israel to accept a two-state solution that involves dangerous and unacceptable concessions. And on both the right and the left, there is much feeling that he seems oblivious to the chaos in Syria and Egypt that has perhaps made an agreement impossible.
But Kerry, thank heavens, has not been deterred. Understanding the stakes, he has pushed ahead.
It is difficult to know at this point how much progress he is making. J.J. Goldberg of the Forward has argued that Israelis and Palestinians may be closer to serious negotiations than is generally imagined. But whatever the exact situation at this moment, what is important is that Kerry is right to make an all-out effort.
There are signs of moderation and flexibility from both the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League—not sufficient, but enough to offer hope.
Strategic factors are working in favor of an agreement. Saudi Arabia and Turkey—the major Sunni powers—would like progress on the Israel-Palestinian front so that the Arab world can focus on the Iranian threat. Israel, to say the least, also wants greater attention paid to Iran, especially by America and the West, and “clearing the deck” of the Palestinian problem could be very helpful in doing that.
There is civil war in Syria and continuing unrest in Egypt, but there is an argument to be made this is precisely the time to take advantage of American mediation and to create a new consciousness of an American-led alliance in the region—which will only be possible if Israeli-Palestinian tensions can be overcome.
And then, Kerry is surely right in believing that the absence of an agreement now will be disastrous for all concerned, but particularly for Israel. In his important speech to the American Jewish Committee Global Forum on June 3, which received little attention in the Jewish community, Kerry laid out the price that Israel is likely to pay if the conflict continues in its current form: the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, civil disobedience and violence in the West Bank, and a dramatic deterioration of Israel’s diplomatic position, including anti-Israel activity at the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Sadly, everything that has happened since then – including the European Union decision on relations with Israel and the continuing tension over settlement building—supports Kerry’s view.
For those who have not seen it, the June 3 speech was not presented as a threat or a club. On the contrary, it was given as part of a declaration of love and concern by a man with a lifetime of commitment to Israel’s wellbeing.
What is needed now is to urge Kerry on and to do everything possible to encourage his success. Much—but not all—will depend on whether the Palestinians step up, agree to talks, and take the steps that they need to take for the negotiations to bear fruit.
But there are things that Israel must do as well. And we all should remember that John Kerry—as noted above—is a hero, and he deserves the full support of all players in this drama.