Fits Like a Glove
By Nadav Eyal
Translated By Hannah Stork
23 December 2012
Edited by Heather Martin
Israel - Maariv - Original Article (Hebrew)
There’s something slightly limiting, not to mention provincial, in examining the nomination of John Kerry through only an Israeli point of view. In the upcoming years, the senior senator will be responsible for managing the diplomacy of the most important world power; he will dedicate much time to the Middle East, but certainly not the majority of his time. He will face challenges like the containment of Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region, overseeing the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the nuclear crisis in Iran, the continually complex and tense relations with Russia, the rise of African economic power and more.
Kerry has been one of the prominent and leading voices regarding foreign affairs in the Democratic Party for many years, especially during the last decade. A war hero, a member of a distinguished family and the son of a diplomat father, Kerry always dreamed of being president. But after losing in the 2004 elections, he turned to a classic activity for a senior senator — building the foundations of international status, with broad experience and diverse connections.
His good relations with Obama undoubtedly helped him establish this status — Kerry is responsible for Obama’s big break into national awareness with his speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004. It was Obama that assigned the senior senator special tasks as the president’s personal envoy and thus intentionally built him up as a possible successor for Hillary Clinton. Kerry perhaps is not Obama’s first choice — that was apparently Susan Rice — but he has proven himself to the administration through the first tests of diplomatic activity for the White House: ability, loyalty and discretion.
And now to Israel. The U.S. president is an idealist in his domestic policy and a pragmatic realist in his foreign policy. Obama’s America operates in the world under cold, realistic and almost conservative considerations. In contrast to George Bush, who held on to romantic notions — democracy in the Arab world, punishing the "axis of evil" — Obama is highly pragmatic and levelheaded. He has no place for antiquated loyalties, not for “the historical alliance” with the U.K. and not for Pakistan in the name of “security cooperation.”
Two words guide him: U.S. interest. For Obama, there is limited space for values in foreign policy, which is separate from domestic policy. For example: If Mubarak had succeeded in suppressing the Egyptian revolution within a week, Obama’s government would have embraced him warmly. His government was also the one that ignored the Green Revolution uprising in Iran. And here in Israel, when it felt like it was possible to make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian political process, Obama tried, but when his attempts failed, he announced that “we can’t want peace more than the parties themselves” and left the Middle East with a sigh.*
Kerry fits Obama like a glove. Upon examination of his remarks regarding Israel, it is clear that he opposes settlements, as was pointed out here over the weekend. Every senior American (including Republicans) who has served in these positions — from Hillary Clinton to James Baker through Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell — has staunchly opposed the building of settlements. It is worthwhile, though, to pay attention to what Kerry has said regarding the U.S. demand that Israel temporarily cease building settlements as a condition for negotiations with the Palestinians, a demand President Obama has previously made of Netanyahu — who agreed to it.
Kerry stated, “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. The key is to get to the security and borders definition, and if you can get the borders definition you’ve solved the problem of the settlements.”
In other words, every “fundamental” demand made as an opening condition is futile in Kerry’s eyes. He is focused on the objective — reaching a permanent agreement from which the fate of the settlements will be derived. This is an incredibly pragmatic approach. The senior senator from Massachusetts is indeed considered a close friend of Israel. His obligation, however, is lower than Hillary Clinton’s. The reason is twofold. Clinton flirted, and is perhaps still flirting, with the idea of running for president in 2016, which requires her to be very careful in any possible confrontation with Israel. Kerry’s presidential hopes no longer exist. He lost them in 2004; that was his last stop. Clinton also felt an emotional, almost familial obligation to Israel. Kerry can allow himself a certain distance.
The two are, incidentally, similar in one thing: Sources in Washington report that John Kerry feels the same level of sympathy toward Prime Minister Netanyahu that his predecessor, Clinton, did — a very low level, if anyone is uncertain, essentially similar to that which developed during Netanyahu’s first term due to his unstable relations with Bill Clinton. These personal components bear a limited significance, of course; Netanyahu, Kerry and Clinton know how to put personal emotions to the side for the sake of shared interests, but it certainly is not a matter of increasing personal chemistry.
The writer is the editor of foreign news for channel 10.
*Editor’s note: This statement, though attributed to Obama, was actually made by Bush.
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