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Al-Raya, Qatar

Kerry: Newcomer to American Diplomacy

By Hamid Ibrahim Hamid

Translated By Melissa Gallo

8 February 2013

Edited by Kyrstie Lane

Qatar - Al-Raya - Original Article (Arabic)

Former Senator John Kerry officially took office as U.S. secretary of state on Friday, Feb. 1, replacing Hillary Clinton, who chose to leave President Obama’s team during his second term. Although change in high office is an established feature in the American administration during a president’s second term, Kerry’s appointment is unique, considering that he was no ordinary diplomat. For several years, Kerry was the U.S. foreign policy maker during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, considered the most important committee. Through this office, Kerry was able to create important personal relationships overseas, not just with foreign ministers, but with presidents, because he was a former presidential candidate himself.

But the question is whether Kerry will be able to achieve a breakthrough on the critical foreign issues where Clinton failed. The numerous, diverse issues begin with Middle East peace (for which America took responsibility, after it was snatched from the international quartet) and end with the war on terror and dealing with the new Islamists who took power in the Arab Spring nations. There is also the Iranian nuclear concern (which has ties to Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah), American-Russian relations, American-Chinese relations, as well as North Korea and Africa and its crises.

What concerns us is how Kerry will deal with the crises of our Arab and African region. Will he be able to break the deadlock in the peace process between Palestinians and Israel, while it has become clear that Israel does not have a program for peace in the first place? Or will he continue Clinton’s positions, which did not bear fruit, but rather enabled Israel and led to the establishment of new Jewish settlements, impeding the peace efforts? How will he deal with the current Arab issues? It is important for Obama’s administration to recognize that, since the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the Arab situation has entirely changed, with the entry of new decision makers represented by political Islam taking the reins of power, especially in Egypt and Tunisia. Therefore, the dealings will be entirely different than what the U.S. administration has become accustomed to during the past few decades. Through Kerry’s anticipated diplomacy, the U.S. will find itself in a confrontation not with one Islamic movement like Hamas but with multiple countries, all with clear visions and positions on the issues of our region, that differ from the visions of the U.S. administration.

The new U.S. administration is responsible for this clearness of vision in our region’s issues, for it is not reasonable that America take on the peace efforts between Palestinians and Israel and at the same time blindly side with the Hebrew state. Israel has taken advantage of this bias and killed the peace effort in its infancy through the scheme of “Judaizing” Jerusalem, obliterating its landmarks, seizing land and accelerating settlements by creating more settlement outposts in locations incompatible with the positions of the international community that officially recognized Palestine as a U.N. member with observer status.

The first test for Kerry will be how he deals with peace in the Middle East. Will his positions differ from Clinton's or will he continue in the same pattern? To be sure, this will be revealed during his visit to Israel, which he intends to make in the middle of February, during his first tour of the Middle East. It is strange that Israel Radio is the one that broadcast the news of his tour, and this means that Kerry will not deviate from the Israeli position, for Israel wants to take advantage of this anticipated visit to implement cooperation and coordination between Washington and Tel Aviv on the unresolved issues that include the Syrian crisis, the Iranian nuclear issue and negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli sides.

It appears that by starting his Middle Eastern tour in Israel, Kerry wanted to send an important message to the region: Despite Israeli fears, American policy will not change during the second period of the Obama administration. The priority is cooperation with Israel, and Washington will view the issues of the region through the eyes of Tel Aviv, which does not want peace but instead wants to drag the region into a new war by threatening to strike Iran and experimenting with the Iron Dome (which failed in its confrontation with the rockets of the Palestinian Resistance during the recent aggression on the Gaza Strip).

It is clear that Kerry will move very cautiously with regard to the issues of the Arab region, and this contradicts Obama’s initiative during his first term that received large regional and international attention, but failed due to Israel’s positions. Therefore, any new effort will fail unless it is accompanied by clear positions that Washington can use to pressure Israel, just as the two-state solution adopted by Washington completely failed. A lot of initiative will be necessary if Kerry persists in reviving it, especially since Obama’s administration did not specify an approach to the peace process. This is despite the fact that Kerry himself knows a lot about this issue and the reasons for Washington's failure to achieve a breakthrough.

Although American positions on international matters rarely change, the appointment of Kerry to the American diplomatic leadership may alter the perspective on some of them, especially since Kerry, as observers say, prefers diplomacy over using a big stick. This means that the position toward the Iranian nuclear issue will focus on the 5+1 talks instead of threatening a strike as Israel demands, despite the announcement by Kerry and other American officials on several occasions that "all options are on the table" in Iran, an air strike among them.

The issues facing Kerry, the new head of U.S. diplomacy, are many and varied. But Kerry's experience, coupled with his harmony with Obama, is adequate to confront them. That is, if Washington pursues more credibility and views the international issues through the lens of justice rather than bias, which has been the case previously. Kerry is experienced in foreign policy, but will he succeed or fail? He will be interacting with new players who disagree with Washington, and they arrived in power with popular support.



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