November 16, 2018

The Kerry speech: Is ‘obsessive and messianic’ still an insult or now an established fact?

1.

Long speeches often merit only a short response. Such was ” target=”_blank”>Elliot Abrams points out, the Security Council resolution that the US worked hard to pass “will harm Israel and do nothing at all to the Palestinians, which means it is not balanced.” The administration punishes Israel, and barely rebukes Palestinian rejectionist policies.  

C. Kerry’s vision is detached from reality. His so called “points” are vague, and meaningless, because on neither of them Israelis and Palestinians can agree.

2.

Let me briefly expand on point C. It is important.

There are two ways to look at the Middle East peace process. One way is to say: everything is solvable, all the parties need is a little push and a little creativity. Another way is to say: the parties are much too far apart to agree on anything.  

The latter is a more realistic reading of the situation. The parties cannot currently agree on anything resembling what Kerry suggested. For example, the Secretary – making his six quite nebulous “principles” for peace – argued that a peace deal ought to “provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine.” Nice suggestion. Alas, for Israel “secure” means “we control the Jordan Valley,” while for Palestinians “viable” means “we control the Jordan Valley.”

Kerry might believe that he can square this circle, but he can’t, neither on borders nor on all the other “principles” that he mentioned (tell me: how exactly does one divide Jerusalem and keep it united at the same time? It might work for lawyers and planners in Washington, not for real people living in the Middle East).

Kerry’s initial mistake as a Secretary, and Obama’s, was to aim for a grand deal rather than focus on small incremental steps that could do something to improve the quality of life for Palestinians and possibly defuse a tense situation. Four years have passed, and this simple lesson still escapes him. Three weeks before departure, and he still aims for the grand deal.

3.

Two years ago I wrote ” target=”_blank”>insulted Kerry by saying that he was “obsessive and messianic.” Yet looking at Kerry yesterday one had to wonder. He was passionate, he clearly felt that there was urgency to this speech.

Such urgency escapes most rational observers. Maybe it was urgent for him to explain the conniving moves behind the Security Council vote, because the reaction to it was harsher than the administration expected. Maybe it was urgent for him because of some hope that a last minute plea will do something to change the hearts of Israelis (or Palestinians). Maybe it was urgent for him to say what he said because when Trump becomes the president things are likely to change.

It is a mystery why he did it – and hearing him yesterday I get the sense that it is not just a mystery to me, it is also a mystery to him.

5.

A few points about Israel’s response:

A. There was a decision to take the gloves off and hit the Obama administration hard. I hope this decision is not ego driven.

B. Israel is right to argue that making the settlements the centerpiece of a Middle East policy is ridiculous – but the fact remains that Israel’s settlements policy raises questions about its real intentions and its plans for the future.

C. The celebratory mood with which Israel awaits President Trump is premature. Trump proved more than once that he can be an unpredictable politician.