Don’t Blame your tools, Mr Kerry

“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is wilfully to misunderstand them.” 
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Well, well, well.  As I write it’s the sixth candle of Chanukah, and the day before the Christian new year 2017. When it comes to US-Israel relations there’s not much light, nor ‘goodwill to all men’ to be found. Instead, just plenty of heat and some of the worst political language heard between the two countries in certainly my living memory (I’m 43).

Of course, as any seasoned observer of the Isreali-Plaestinian conflict knows, it all started when the US took the unprecedented step of abstaining on a UN vote, critical of Israel’s settlement policy. This is the first time that the US abstained, usually always voting against.

Benjamin Netanyahu was furious, launching a tirade of abuse, speaking of betrayal and a fundamental bias against Israel. So far, so Bibi. His default position when attacked is that of Rottweiler: Bite back hard, ask questions later.

Then things got really nasty. I like many of you I’m sure, was watching john Kerry’s state department speech earlier this week.

Kerry, the outgoing secretary of state, called Netanyahu’s government the “most rightwing coalition in Israeli history” and warned that the rapid expansion of settlements in the occupied territories meant that “the status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation”. Israel’s actions he said, were putting the very notion of a two state solution into jeopardy.

Then the real monocle falling into the glass moment came when he said that Israel cannot be both a Jewish State and a democratic one.

Come again? At this stage I switched off my TV in disgust. Is the US, or the UK, or France for that matter, not both a democracy and Christian?

Never have I heard such an ill-tempered and ill-measured rant from an American Secretary of State. Whilst few will disagree that the current Israeli government is the most right wing in history, his other comments were so over the line even John McEnroe wouldn’t have objected.

There’s an expression that a bad workman always blames his tools. And the Kerry speech felt every bit like that. His administration had eight years to try and make some impression on the conflict. By any benchmark it failed miserably. The US-Israel relationship was the rockiest it had ever been, despite security co-operation. Precisely zero progress was made, as the focus rested solely on settlement construction at the expense of a multitude of other issues that are obstacles to peace, such as Palestinian incitement.

US Strategic diplomacy has taken a severe battering of late. One only need look at Syria and how the Russians and Turks have brokered a ceasefire (the Americans through gritted teeth welcomed it), or how Mr Duterte of the Philipines feels bold enough to give two-fingered salute to the US, preferring instead closer ties with Moscow and Beijing.

The only silverware, if you can call it that, in the US foreign policy success cupboard is one that they awarded themselves over the Iran nuclear deal.  As former Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson succinctly put it “Aleppo, Mosul, Ramadi, Falujah, Yemen, Lebanon, everywhere you find destruction & brutality in the Middle East you discover it is being caused by the Iranian regime who want to spread their sick vision of Islamic fundamentalism around the world.”

Speaking of British Politicians, even Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister took the unprecedented step of distancing herself from Mr Kerry’s comments as a bridge too far.

Look, of course things are not easy in Israel just now, and the country is a split over the issue of settlements as the UK is over Brexit, or Germany or France on Immigration. But this type of thundering and stamping of feet is the political equivalent of the proverbial use of sledgehammer to crack a nut. More than that, its political cowardice: inability to accept failure.

Let us be clear. US foreign policy has failed, its influence on the wane. That’s why watching John Kerry’s fit of pique was so undignified to us. It seemed as if he was flailing around looking at someone to blame for the empty cupboard. Clue. There’s this thing called a mirror. We suggest you look in it along with Mr Obama, John. 

About the Author
Alex Benjamin is the director of EIPA, a multi-disciplined pro-Israel advocacy Group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin. He is also the Director of Public Affairs for EJA: European Jewish Association, a Brussels based NGO which represents and acts on behalf of Jewish communities across the EU and wider European continent, at the heart of the European Institutions and at bilateral level with Member States.
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