My word: Meddling in the Middle East

The US secretary of state should apply pressure in the places that really need it.

John Kerry in Geneva 370 (photo credit:  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse )
John Kerry in Geneva 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse )
There has been a definite escalation of tension – not between Iran and Israel or Israel and the Palestinians – but between the US secretary of state and the Israeli prime minister.
A clearly infuriated and frustrated John Kerry in a now highly publicized joint interview with Israel’s Channel 2 diplomatic reporter Udi Segal and Palestine TV’s Maher Shalabi warned on November 7: “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. Does Israel want a third intifada?” It was an extraordinary threat – particularly as a wave of “low-level” terror attacks, several of them lethal, is already taking place – because of the negotiations.
Israelis aren’t surprised by the attacks; we have come to expect terror as the accompaniment to peace talks over the last couple of decades.
But I wasn’t the only one doing a double take as Kerry appeared to be turning the heat on Israel during the interview, while basically excusing Palestinian violence.
Kerry made similar comments in meetings with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas.
In the interview, the US secretary of state cautioned that “if we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of the delegitimization of Israel that has been taking place on an international basis.”
Kerry perhaps won’t be happy to be part of that delegitimization, but he’ll do it anyway.
Israeli officials are evidently trying harder than Kerry to keep things calm – particularly since Israel recently released more than 50 terrorists just for the pleasure of sitting down to talk with the Palestinians.
The defense and security establishment is insisting that the current wave of attacks is not the start of a new uprising but the work of individual perpetrators acting on their own.
They might be operating as loose cannons, but the terrorists who have in recent weeks killed three soldiers (two of them off-duty) and a civilian, tried to kill a nine-year-old girl, dug booby-trapped tunnels from Gaza and thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli drivers are not acting in a vacuum. Their inspiration is the nonstop incitement in the Palestinian and Arab media and mosques.
Equally disturbing are the double standards constantly being applied against Israel. Had police arrested the 16-year-old Palestinian on Wednesday before he stabbed to death a 19-year-old soldier who was sleeping on a bus, rather than after he had taken the life of Pvt. Eden Atias, human rights groups would doubtless have issued condemnations of the detention of the Palestinian youth.
Kerry also laid out quite clearly where he stands on the “settlement” issue: They are “illegitimate.”
It is a mystery to me what exactly the Israelis and Palestinians are meant to be discussing if Kerry has already determined an end result neither side can live with, literally.
My mind and Kerry’s obviously don’t work in similar ways.
Anyway, it now seems the Palestinians have two figures involved at the top level of the talks – neither of whom has been elected to represent them: Kerry, the supposedly impartial American facilitator, and Abbas, whose term as elected PA president expired in January 2009. So much for American support of democracy.
It’s worth noting that until the US decided to force another round of talks on Israel and the Palestinians, both were enjoying a period of relative peace, stability and growth – and not just relative to neighboring Syria and Egypt.
TO THEIR dubious credit, not much can unite Israel and the Arab world as much as the serious doubts about the way US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are conducting foreign policy in the region.
Saudi Arabia, formerly considered one of America’s strongest allies in the area, recently turned down a seat on the United Nations Security Council to protest US foreign policy – the Saudis and the non-Shi’ite regimes in the Persian Gulf being at least as concerned by the Iranian nuclear threat as the Israelis.
With Obama zigzagging over who should be in control in Egypt – who did he think would take over from Hosni Mubarak other than the Muslim Brotherhood? – and backing down on the Syrian chemical weapons issue, even traditional American allies are looking to strengthen ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (And everybody but Obama has learned from the North Korean example, it seems.) Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous: Saudi Arabia this week reached an agreement with Jordan giving the latter the prestigious Security Council seat in return for a place on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Admittedly, the Human Rights Council doesn’t have much of a name to lose, given that it was previously chaired by Libya during the time of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. But still, it is hard to imagine how the UN body intends to live up to its mandate when its members include China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The UNHRC, however, should find it easy to continue to pass regular motions condemning Israel (our policies on gay rights, women’s rights and holding regular democratic elections being somewhere between incomprehensible and reprehensible to some of its members).
The Iranian nuclear program, despite the best efforts of the US, remains a danger greater even than that of another intifada – and not only to Israel.
Both the Iranian regime and Binyamin Netanyahu get full points for consistency (a word Kerry and Obama might need to look up): For some two decades the Iranians have been working on their nuclear program and all the time Netanyahu, as prime minister and out of power, has been warning that this is a threat to the world.
In a second celebrated interview this week, Kerry told NBC’s Meet the Press regarding the US stand on Iran’s nuclear program: “We’re not blind, and I don’t think we’re stupid.”
I didn’t even bother to do a double take as I heard him say it.
Through Kerry’s best intentions and worst efforts, Netanyahu has managed (or mismanaged) to get himself into a situation where Israel’s final borders, security and the Iranian issue have all become tied into a massive noose-shaped knot.
In a speech in the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu cautioned the Palestinians against continued incitement and explained to the world, or at least the US: “There are not just two possibilities on the Iranian issue: A bad deal, or war... There is a third possibility – and that is continuing the pressure of sanctions.
I would even say that a bad deal is liable to lead to the second, undesired, result.”
The prime minister obviously does not want any extra conflict with the Americans (or the Palestinians and Iranians, for that matter). Neither do I, but I also think the world would be a safer place were the US secretary of state to apply pressure in the places that really need it.
Frankly, the Middle East is enough of a mess without the help of friends like Kerry.The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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