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Jewish Journal

Kerry’s Flip-Flops on Israel Stir Concern

by Rick Richman

May 20, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Earlier this year, Sen. John Kerry started shifting his position on Israel in hope of removing it as an issue of concern to Jewish voters.

In February, just before the New York primary, Kerry met with prominent Jewish leaders and explained the naming of former President Jimmy Carter as his potential peace process envoy as a "staff mistake." But the leaders subsequently discovered, by reading a transcript of the December speech in which he named Carter, that the explanation was untrue.

In April on "Meet the Press," Kerry gave a new explanation. Asked why he first suggested Carter and then rejected him, Kerry said Carter's name had merely been "floated" as "a kind of potential." But that answer was also untrue.

In November, Carter had written that the "road map" was a "dead issue." He proposed a "comprehensive peace agreement" -- the imminent Geneva accord -- as an "alternative" to "step-by-step approaches."

In December, at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kerry suggested "the end game is the focus, not the steps leading up to it." He said it was "astonishing" that we were not "picking up somewhere near where we left off at Taba." He named Carter as a prospective "presidential envoy" -- to be appointed in the "first days of a Kerry administration." And he said he had already talked to Carter about it.

Kerry was not "floating" a name. He was endorsing a major foreign policy shift -- far beyond anything Howard "Evenhanded" Dean had suggested.

On "Meet the Press," Kerry also said, "You cannot have a right of return that's open-ended or something.... It's always been a nonstarter." His statement was seemingly consistent with his assertion that he "completely" supported President Bush on this issue.

But there are several reasons to be skeptical of Kerry's statement. First, in his Oct. 17, 2003, speech to the Arab American Institute, he did not mention the right of return, much less label it a "nonstarter."

Instead, at that time, Kerry said he knew "how disheartened Palestinians are by the Israeli government's decision to build a barrier off the Green Line" -- which he called "another barrier to peace." He also said he knew peace "looks very close ... [to] Taba in January of 2001."

Second, he phrased his "Meet the Press" answer as follows: ".... You cannot have a right of return that's open-ended or something." He did not reject a limited right of return.

If that sounds familiar, there is a reason: Taba.

The essential point, once conceded, would be used to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Taba was a disaster for the prospect of peace, because it demonstrated that Israel -- having offered maximum territorial concessions -- would, if rejected, offer even more dramatic concessions, proving that additional war (forsworn at Oslo) would produce increasingly better terms, with no penalty for rejecting Oslo.

For a presidential candidate to propose -- in the midst of a barbaric post-Oslo war -- abandoning the road map (with its insistence on steps and an end to Palestinian violence as the first required step) in favor of picking up at Taba, with its discussions under fire about a limited right of return, is -- there is no other word -- astonishing.

But that was Kerry's position at the Council on Foreign Relations, and, as his "Meet the Press" phrasing shows, it still appears to be his position now. It is not Bush's.

One can honorably debate the merits of this issue. One can argue a "comprehensive peace agreement," such as the Geneva Accord could produce peace. One can also argue that the "peace process" -- finding a "partner" to sign an "agreement" -- is a quaint 20th-century belief mugged multiple times by reality.

But Kerry's gyrations on Israel are something else. Someone who flips within months from supporting Carter to backing Bush is someone who can flop back again -- once the reason for the flip is gone.

And that raises a question about Kerry that is not, or is not only, a Jewish issue.

Rick Richman edits "Jewish Current Issues" at rrichman.blogspot.com .

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