John Kerry’s Middle East Tour: A Non-Event

American Secretary of State John Kerry is taking his third trip to the Middle East, to “revive Israel-Palestine peace negotiations,” the State Department declared. In reality, this two-week tour, which started in Istanbul on Nov. 2, will allow him to visit the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia. Surpassing the routine trip to the Middle East, the secretary of state is revisiting U.S. relations that have been negatively affected by historical disputes (the Palestinian cause, the Saharan conflict), current problems (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and the state of international relations (Europe and Southeast Asia). From this point of view, the challenges of the trip concern the habitual exercise of American diplomacy — being attentive to international scenes. Reviving peace in the Middle East, where expectations for a breakthrough are weak, is a reductive description of the tour’s objectives.

“Rebalancing” Relations with Egypt (Nov. 3, 2013)

This visit by John Kerry, the first since President Morsi was ousted, was supposed to settle the misunderstanding and adjust America’s treatment of the change in regime. The United States had, in fact, partially suspended military aid after Morsi was ousted. Egypt affirmed its desire to henceforth “expand (its) options” to “serve (its) national interests,” according to Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelaty. In fact, Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Fahmi had recently qualified Egypt-U.S. relations as “tense.” During his meetings, the secretary of state confirmed that Egypt was the “senior player … within the Arab world” and that “the United States is “determined … to work with our Saudi friends.” In this context, the U.S. secretary of state made sure to confirm that Washington, Egypt’s “friend” and “partner,” was “committed to work with and will continue [its] cooperation with the interim government,” during a press conference in Cairo, beside his Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmi. A significant fact: Secretary of State Kerry, who landed in Cairo the day before the trial of the ousted head of state, avoided bringing up that issue, respecting Egyptian independence.

Saudi Arabia, Affirming the Alliance (Riyadh, Nov. 4-5)

Saudi Arabia, who supports the rebellion against President Bashar Assad, criticizes the U.S. because President Obama gave up on striking the Syrian regime in September. On the other hand, it is also worried about a potential U.S.-Iran reconciliation, which Arab monarchies in the Gulf are fully supporting, after the election of moderate leader Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran. John Kerry was urgently rushed to Riyadh after complaints from the oil kingdom over the last few weeks. He had meetings with the foreign affairs minister and was received on Nov. 4 by the ruler. Kerry presented multiple reassuring declarations to Saudi leaders and reassured King Abdullah that “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.”

The Ritual of Managing the Palestinian Cause (Nov. 6-8, 2013)

The meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian governments left nothing to report. Israel continues with territorial colonization. Refusing to satisfy the conditions of the dialogue, the Israeli government gave the green light for the construction of 3,500 new housing units in the West Bank and the Jerusalem settlements the day before Kerry’s visit. However, pursuing colonization led to the end of negotiations three years ago. Wishful thinking, John Kerry declared on the occasion of meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank: “We consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate.” In fact, the U.S. always seems more worried about managing the Palestinian question than fixing it. Continuing his tour in Jordan on Thursday Nov. 7, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Israel that failed peace talks with the Palestinians could lead to even more violence in the region.

The “alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Mr. Kerry said on Thursday in an interview broadcast by Israel’s Channel 2 and on public Palestinian television. “Does Israel want a third Intifada?” he added. Despite the ups and downs normal in any negotiation, “this is not mission impossible,” he said. John Kerry is therefore attempting to appease each side in order to continue moving forward in the process of peace. But his diplomatic optimism and his strategy of appeasement cannot convince Palestinian public opinion and, a fortiori, its leaders. A recent survey shows that 70 percent of Palestinians think the negotiations will fail. The U.S. approach hasn’t changed, in the sense that they are unable to convince Israel of the necessity of freeing occupied territories.

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