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Israel Factor: Israel Should Rely More on Kerry, Less on Republicans

by Shmuel Rosner

February 11, 2014 | 3:43 am

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 27. Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters

Our Israel Factor panel of experts generally doesn't agree with the statement "when it comes to the peace process, John Kerry is obsessive and messianic". In fact, the panel ranks the truthfulness of this statement below all the other statements we gave it, at 3.6 out of 10. And while the panel's ranking of Obama's Middle East policies doesn't give the impression that it is highly impressed by the policy or the execution – Obama's Middle East policy is 5.1 out of 10, his foreign policy 5.5 out of 10 – the specific pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement gets the highest mark of all topics: 6.3.

Of course, 6.3 is not very high. But it is as high as this administration's policies get in this February 2014 survey of our ten-member panel. Moreover, when asking about Kerry himself we offered the panel two statements to agree or disagree with. The first one was the statement based on Israel's Defense Minister's criticism of Kerry: the "obsessive and messianic" statement. The second was the following statement: "Kerry manages to handle the peace process with sophistication and elegance". While the first one got the average of 3.6 out of ten on the scale of approval, the second one got a 6.1 – the panel, in general (and there are wide and noticeable differences among the members of the panel on this issue), tends to have a more positive than negative view of Kerry's insistence on advancing his peace initiative.

This could be a result of one of two possible reasons: one – the panelists tend to want more American mediation and involvement in the peace process. Two – the panelists are impressed with Kerry's pursuit of his goals. If that is the policy, they say, it is good to see a Secretary that puts his frequent-flier miles where his mouth is.

Kerry, the person, has become an issue in the peace process. Thus, it is no wonder that the administration is reportedly "enlisting American Jewish groups to respond to personal attacks" on him. Our panel somewhat agrees with the notion that Israelis' "dismal view" of the Obama policy "has no good reason" (ranking it 5 out of 10), but dismal it is. In recent polls, Israelis once again expressed their distrust of the administration. Not much of a surprise considering a long line of similar polls. Thus, it is also not surprising that the comments made by Kerry regarding the boycott were understood by most Israelis – 61% - as a "threat" rather than as an expression of concern for Israel. When someone fails to gain the trust of Israelis, the expected result is the grim interpretation of every move or gaffe. And really, the boycott statement was probably a gaffe more than anything else.

When asked last week (link in Hebrew) if they "trust Obama's US to defend Israel's essential interests", a vast majority of Jewish Israelis said "not at all trust" (25%), "don't trust" (25%) and "don't fully trust" (22%).  60% of respondents to that poll agree with the "criticism" leveled at Kerry – 48% agree and see no problem with stating it publically, while 12% agree but think it should not have been aired in the way it was.

So Kerry is not the darling of Israelis – but our panel, or most of it, seems to be more satisfied with his efforts, and not as critical of him. In fact, our panel seems to be closer to the Prime Minister's view than the Israeli public is. That's not to say that Netanyahu is happy about Kerry's every move, that he is not angry with him from time to time, and that he doesn't suspect that Kerry is, indeed, somewhat obsessive in his efforts. Still, there is a difference between believing Kerry is not pursuing the right policy, and believing him to be an enemy of Israel. Thus, the comments from Israel's ambassador, Ron Dermer, saying that Kerry "was making a descriptive statement" about the boycott and not trying to "pressure Israel" should be taken at face value. Calling him "a true friend of Israel", like Foreign Minister Lieberman did a couple of days ago, is probably a better policy than calling him "obsessive". The Prime Minister doesn't want to make an enemy out of Kerry not because he agrees with his every move, but rather because Kerry, for the time being, is the best Israel can hope for from the Obama administration.

In fact, looking at what our panel says, it would be wise for Israel to get used to having to deal with Kerry-type policies. One of the few issues on which our panel was close to real agreement is the statement "Israel relies too much on Republican political support". This got 7.8 points out of 10 for truthfulness. This reliance on the American right might have good reasons – obviously, the policies of Republican lawmakers and voters seem closer to the ones preferable to Israel. But the fact of the matter is that Democrats are in control of foreign policy, and might be in control of it for a very long time.

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