It’s not news that Republican politicians, and even centrist pundits, think President Obama blundered by making a settlement freeze the opening gambit of his policy towards Israel and Palestine. (What Obama should have done instead, given Mahmoud Abbas’ understandable reluctance to negotiate without preconditions with an Israeli prime minister who during his first months in office did not even support a Palestinian state, those politicians and pundits generally don’t say). But it’s more surprising to hear Obama second-guessed by the leading contender to be his second term secretary of state, John Kerry. “I was opposed to the prolonged effort on the settlements in a public way because I never thought it would work, and, in fact, we have wasted a year and a half on something that for a number of reasons was not achievable,” Kerry declared last year, in a quote recycled today in Politico. “I think it sort of put the cart before the horse.”
Did it now? It’s intriguing to learn that Kerry opposed the Obama administration’s initial focus on settlements because in a speech to the Brookings Institution roughly six weeks after Obama was sworn in, the Massachusetts Senator called for “demonstrating—with actions rather than words—that we are serious about Israel freezing settlement activity in the West Bank.” In other words, he urged an even tougher line on settlements than did the Obama team, which publicly proposed a settlement freeze (“words”) but did not put any actual pressure (“deeds”) on Israel to make that freeze a reality. (Ultimately, Israel agreed to a ten month partial freeze with so many loopholes that settlement growth ended up being greater in 2010, the year of the freeze, than it had been in 2008).
Kerry has been in the news of late for his role in Obama’s debate preparation, where he plays Mitt Romney, another Massachusetts politician known for altering his views when it becomes politically expedient. Looks like Kerry is playing the role all too well.