Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Kerry and the “Peace Process”

by Elliott Abrams
February 25, 2013


There must be something in the water over at the State Department that leads successive secretaries of state to decide, seemingly on their first day there, that now is the time for a big new push at a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Here we go again. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz,

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intends to place the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the center of his diplomatic activities and to strive to achieve a breakthrough agreement between the two sides during President Obama’s second term in office, according to the assessment of well-placed sources in Washington and New York.

Why? The article continues:

Nonetheless, the overall impression left by the discussions conducted in recent weeks by Kerry and his advisers with European, Israeli and Arab officials, as well as American Jewish leaders, is that the former Massachusetts senator is “determined to the point of obsession,” as one skeptical interlocutor put it, to change the tone and direction of relations between Israel and the Palestinians during his term as Secretary of State. “He sees it as the holy mission of his life,” the source said. Kerry is convinced that his years of experience with the region and his deep personal relationships with many of its main protagonists, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, place him in a unique position to succeed where his predecessors have failed and to bring about not only a resumption of talks but a long-term agreement as well.

Lest it be thought that this is the take solely of one Israeli newspaper, here is the Los Angeles Times experienced correspondent Paul Richter:

As Kerry heads off Sunday on his debut trip as secretary of State to nine nations in Europe and the Middle East, his blunt exchange with Assad offers insight on his determination to use whatever it takes — even insults — to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, his personal passion. Kerry has made it clear he wants to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a long and sporadic process whose latest collapse occurred during Obama’s first term. He is well aware that failed attempts tarnished the reputations of elder statesmen and presidents for decades, including Obama. He is not deterred.

Oh boy.
Two things strike me about these reports. First, our new SecState does not appear to be operating from any new assessment of the situation received from State Department or other U.S. experts, nor from Israelis or Palestinians. He is entering the office certain of what can be achieved and certain he is the man to achieve it. This is not the best way to make policy. Second, he seems unaware of or anyway undeterred by the risks and downsides. Raising hopes that are later dashed, opening negotiations that sadly go nowhere, holding ceremonial openings that never lead to tangible achievements-all of these undermine faith on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides that peace is achievable. American failures of any sort have the same effect, on those parties and others in the region. Moreover, the insistent (obsessive?) focus on breakthroughs and huge achievements leads too often to ignoring more practical, shorter-range, and achievable agreements that are sometimes derided as “small ball.” Better small ball than the swing for the fences that, time after time, ends the inning in a strikeout.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    People a lot smarter than Kerry have tried and failed in the distant and recent past . He should have been happy to stay in the senate where he and his wife are known as “Cash & Kerry” .
    This is going to be embarrassing .

  • Posted by Dan

    It’s a low-risk policy for the State Dept. It’s bound to fail and Israel will be blamed.

  • Posted by Campo Corto

    Jack McKeon was the king of small ball but, more often than not, his game management for the Fish, just what the doctor ordered for a struggling team in 2003, spoiled any chance of a big inning in ’04 and ’05 (although one grand slam by Jeff Conine, master of the everyday adjustment, stands out- he’s sittin’ dead-red on a fastball, 3-0, and rakes it to left).
    Still, Trader Jack will go down in Marlins history as having won the World Series at Yankee Stadium with the gutsiest move in recent memory- starting Josh Beckett on three days’ rest in Game 6 when he would have been ready for Game 7.
    On a serious note, Zionism staked out a vision- safety- which has migrated into mission creep, justifiable in light of Jewish history, less so in view of religious realities on the ground. Israel is caught in the crossroads of time, a liability its enemies don’t bargain with.
    Returning to our culture as a metaphor, another three-run homer, like Herzl’s, is called for. Weaverball, with #8 at short.
    Fear strikes out.

  • Posted by Enos Slaughter

    its ‘adversaries’

  • Posted by Arm Chair

    With all due respect….The only thing the Arabs hear is ” piece process”: dismantle Israel, G-d forbid,” piece by piece by piece”.

    If they wanted peace with Israel, and they do not, they could have had it long ago…but do not take my word for it; perhaps the executive branch could benefit by listening to what their leadership says clearly and continuously: “no Israel”…
    Which part of no does the executive branch not understand?

    And how come the democratic executive branch demands a new Palesteinian state where women do not have: “the right to choose”, even whether or not to have sex with their husbands: on demand…in coerced marriages…and if the woman protest: death by stoning? (And no “right to choose” not to dress covered head to toe: death penalty)

  • Posted by Gary Katz

    John Kerry and all other peace brokers must realize that they will not succeed where others have failed, unless they have some magic wand that will change the Muslim hatred of Jewish hegemony over “sacred Muslim land,” which is the real obstacle to any permanent peace. Only Muslim leaders, teachers and clerics can change that attitude, and there’s not nearly enough of them willing to try.

  • Posted by Gary Frankford

    I doubt Kerry and Obama think a comprehensive deal is possible. What Obama wants is a deal with Iran. And he means to achieve it at the expense of Israel’s strategic self-interest.

    The outlines of such a deal might look like: In return for the mullahs’ agreeing to suspend or even end uranium enrichment, Israel will have to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and permit intrusive inspections by the IAEA.

    This scenario combines two of Obama’s goals: his desire to ally the US with Islam, and his dream of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

    If Israel refuses this “offer,” no matter—–Obama will look like a hero, and the Jewish state will be branded the “real” impediment to peace in the region. Headlines everywhere will blare: “Israel blocks nuclear-free Middle East,” etc. A disaster.

    Obama does not believe in win-win. Only he wins, and unless Israel takes this president seriously, via neutralizing every trap he lays, the likelihood is that Obama will succeed in checkmating Israel, or at least isolating it totally.

    In all of the above, John Kerry is the front-man, but Obama is the puppet-master.

    This is a dark vision, to be sure. However, based on our experiences of Obama, the most dire predictions are the ones most likely to occur.

    What must Israel do? It must act heroically and ruthlessly. It must stop trying to establish a European-style liberal democracy in the Middle East, and stick with reality for a change. The reality is that its neighbors can’t wait to slit every Jewish throat they can lay their hands on. This can be dealt with only one way, through preemptive force, and the sooner the better. Either that, or play ball with Obama.

  • Posted by Andrew

    Arm Chair – I agree with you, Palestinians hear “piece process” and they continue to see their future state occupied and broken off into pieces soon commandeered by right-wing Israeli settlers straight off the boat from Brooklyn.

    I would suggest you read up on your history a bit (or quite a bit) as the PA has recognized Israel for decades, as have Egypt and Jordan. You have also clearly never been to the West Bank, or you would know that women are not dressed head to toe, and are not required to be so.

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