Nominations

12.17.12

"Is John Kerry Good For Israel?"

Over the weekend, word came down that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry (D-MA) would be the likely nominee to replace Hillary Clinton atop the State Department. Kerry's nod seems unlikely to make many waves; he's already gotten the seal of approval from his friend Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican who led the successful charge to spike U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's nomination. But that doesn't mean Kerry doesn't have his enemies and, as with the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department, a lot of comes from the pro-Israel right.

The Israeli and right-leaning pro-Israel American media has been abuzz with news of Kerry's impending nomination. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot ran an item today asking: "Is John Kerry good for Israel?" "In 2009 he embarrassed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he came out against Israeli settlement construction during the latter's visit in Washington," wrote Yedioth's Attila Somfalvi. "Israeli officials saw the move as a premeditated ambush meant to embarrass Netanyahu on his first visit to the U.S. after the 2008 elections." But U.S. governments of both parties long-since opposed settlements, and the speech was far from combative. Here's the meat of the section on settlements:

For decades, American Presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, have opposed new settlement activity and recognized that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. But in our honest moments we would all acknowledge that this policy has usually existed on paper alone. [...] We will defend Israel’s security unflinchingly. But the fact is, Israelis themselves decided that the settlements make it more difficult to protect the security of their citizens. 

Kerry called for—gasp!—"actions not words" to actuate what's been a U.S. policy flouted by Israel. Luckily for backers of settlements, nothing ever came of it; there were only words. Israel continues to build apace in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The other major objection in the Yedioth piece and elsewhere was to Kerry's discussions, in a series of diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, covering the Foreign Relations chair's thoughts on Mideast peace. Kerry was "shocked" by what he saw during Israel's month-long war with Hamas during the winter of 2008 to 2009. Though sober about the chances of Hamas recognizing Israel, he called for reconciliation of the Palestinian militant faction with the more moderate leaders in the West Bank. And, not shockingly at all, he called for Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a peace deal. 

This last item has the right all exercised. "During that 2010 get-together, the emir [of Qatar] told Kerry to focus on Syria as the… path toward resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict," wrote Yori Yanover in the Jewish Press. "And listen to this: Kerry agreed with the emir that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a man who wants change. ...Yes, let’s take advice on our fate from this man." But Benjamin Netanyahu also engaged in broad dialogue with Assad and even reportedly agreed to full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. So should Israelis leave their fate in Bibi's hands?

Reading over his 2009 speech, Kerry is more prescient than the highlighted excerpts give him credit for: "None of us can afford to continue on the present course," he said. "In the Middle East, nothing stays the same for long. On both sides, facts on the ground are conspiring to make a solution more difficult." The danger—contra those on the right raising objections—is not that Kerry was wrong in his speech. It's that he was right, and still nothing was done about it.