Analysis | Mideast Peace Efforts |

Kerry Contradicts Cliche: U.S. DOES Want Peace More Than Israelis and Palestinians

The Kerry and Obama speeches are a one-two punch for American peacemaking. The two are the dynamic duo for their fans, but Tweedledum and Tweedledee to their critics. And Kerry’s attempt to enlist U.S. Jews is unprecedented.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

1. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has given the lie to the worn-out cliché that “the United States cannot want peace more than the parties to the conflict”. Kerry and President Obama, for example, appear to want peace, to seek peace and, most importantly, to believe in peace more than any of the Israeli (or Palestinian) leaders that are “the parties to the conflict”.

In recent years, no Israeli leader (with the possible exception of Shimon Peres, of course) has delivered such an impassioned plea for peace as Obama did in his address to Israeli students at Jerusalem’s Binyanei Hauma in March. And no statesman has so dramatically laid out the stark choice awaiting decision makers as Kerry did in his heartfelt speech before the American Jewish Committee in Washington on Monday.

In fact, the two speeches should be read together, as a one-two punch of U.S. peacemaking, with identical themes, similar warnings and parallel objectives: Peace is doable, time is running out, Israel won’t remain both Jewish and democratic, the-one-state solution is no solution at all, the upheaval in the Arab world is an opportunity, not an obstacle, and the only thing we have to fear, as Franklin Roosevelt said, is fear itself.

Supporters and optimists will laud Obama and Kerry as the dynamic duo of Middle East diplomacy, Superman and Batman, perhaps - probably Batman and Robin by White House accounts - ready to save the day at very last minute, when all have given up hope.

Critics, cynics and naysayers will view the two as the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of broken promises, shattered dreams and naïve hopes that spring eternal. Then they will yawn, jeer without much conviction and await what they all expect, and some of them hope, will be the inevitable collapse of yet another round of futile peacemaking.

2. The main difference between the Obama and Kerry speeches was their target audience: Obama called on Israeli youth to “create the change that you want to see” while Kerry’s addressee was the American Jewish community, which was urged to “help shape the future.”

So while Obama was doing a Bibi on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by “going over his head” in much the same way that Netanyahu has been doing for years with American public opinion, Kerry was taking Netanyahu head-on, mano a mano, on Netanyahu’s “home turf”, addressing the audience that has traditionally served as Israel’s bulwark against ambitious designs of American administrations.

Rarely has a U.S. government official so explicitly tried to enlist American Jews on behalf of American peacemaking, for Israeli and Palestinian children but also “for your own children, do this, for your grandchildren, do this.” He was literally pleading with his listeners to “send a message that you are behind this hopeful vision of what can be.”

Kerry, in fact, created a hitherto unheard of equivalence between American Jews and the Arab League. “You should know that you’re not going to be alone,” he said, and then lauded the recent Arab League decision to agree to land swaps.
It is a comparison with which many American Jews may feel uncomfortable, to say the least.

3. In preparation for the inconvenient truths that he was about to deliver, Kerry softened up his audience by pulling out all the tricks and shticks and schmaltz (bathos) and schlock (cheap articles) and even mishpoche (family) in the book.
From his long lost relatives who perished in the Holocaust to his converted-acting-Commerce-Secretary brother to “Ma Nishtana” through a surreal Masada rendition of “Am Yisrael Chai” all the way to the ham-handed Catskillian attempt to impersonate an Israeli Air Force officer, whose accent a la Kerry came out more Puerto Rican than Hebrew. Then he gave it his best shot.

4. Kerry didn’t even try to hide his weariness from the surfeit of Israelis who cited the “Gaza and Lebanon withdrawal” precedent in his ears, explaining to his audience, slowly and in capital letters, that those were UNILATERAL acts while he is proposing a full-fledged treaty along the lines of those signed by Israel with Egypt and Jordan (and with Yasser Arafat, though Kerry omitted that one).

Kerry made even shorter shrift of those who believe that the conflict can be “managed” – a large contingent of which hold senior positions in Netanyahu’s current cabinet. “They are lulling themselves into a delusion” he said, that the status quo and the relative security could be maintained.

5. The disturbing element in Kerry’s pitch, for critics and supporters alike, was its tone of finality, its take it or leave it cadence, its Last Chance Saloon atmosphere, its do or die delivery.

So was this Middle East peace process’ swan song, its last hurrah, or will it prove to be a rallying cry, a battle hymn, a harbinger of unexpected turnarounds, a deus ex machina that somehow contrives for a last minute twist to the plot?
We may know “in a few days”, as Kerry intriguingly said. In the meantime, if one continues in the same vein, the secretary of state is filling the role of Brunnhilde in Wagner’s interminable Gotterdammerung, the proverbial “fat lady” who is finally singing. Which means that we will soon know whether jig is up and the game is over, one way or another.

6. In the meantime, here is a handy A-B glossary for right-wingers and Emergency Committee types: appeasement, betrayal, clueless, collaborate, dangerous, dishonest, distorted, divorced from reality, empty, ignorant, innocent, in the dark, lamb to slaughter, naïve, one-sided, perilous, perfidious, sacrifice, silly, treacherous, warped and that all time favorite: throwing Israel under the bus.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington, June 3, 2013.Credit: AP

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