July 2, 2013
Kerry’s Puzzling Priorities and 5 other Quick Comments from Washington
I should apologize in advance for the following manifestation of incredulity and sarcasm, but the more I think about the precious time John Kerry wasted last week on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the more I wonder about the US’ ability to set its priorities straight. Jeff Goldberg aptly explained yesterday that “The goal Kerry has in mind -- getting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas together for direct talks about the most divisive issues -- won’t be achieved. Both the Palestinians and Israelis know that Kerry’s proposed negotiations won’t work, but neither party wants to upset Kerry by saying so, and neither wants to be perceived as uninterested in compromise”.
He was right, but there’s more to this story than Kerry’s “doomed” effort on the Israeli-Palestinian front. There’s also the story of Kerry’s attention being focused in the wrong direction. The parties don’t want to upset him, so they both refrain from stating the obvious: Here? Now? Don’t you have more urgent things to do?
Of course he does. Think about it for a moment: as Egypt – an important country of 80 million, a crucial US ally for many years, a Middle East lion - was on the verge of implosion, the Secretary was investing extra time in small change. And yes, the phrase “small change” will surely anger some of the readers who rightly think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as much more than small change. And it is – the conflict is much more than small change. Yet when Syria is still in flames and when Egypt is in threat of quickly deteriorating, when urgent matters call for urgent attention, this last round of fruitless negotiations is indeed small change.
And for Kerry to shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah is a weird choice. As even in the unlikely case that he manages to drag the two sides to the negotiating table, it is still highly unlikely that a deal will emerge from such talks. And even if a deal is agreed upon, there is still serious doubt about whether it could be implemented under the current conditions. The fact that the Middle East is in disarray makes any progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front more difficult. And the fact that Kerry doesn’t get it, and doesn't focus his attention on where trouble is really coming from, casts doubt on his ability to manage a set of priorities in a way that would make him an effective Secretary of State.
As usual, I highly recommend the chapter on geopolitics written by Ambassador Avi Gil for JPPI’s annual assessment (necessary reminder: I work for JPPI). Gil would surely disagree with my previous comment, but what he wrote about Egypt in this chapter- before the current eruption- is definitely worth a look:
If European leaders didn’t suspect that the US was spying on them they are not very intelligent. But you know they are very intelligent – intelligent and hypocritical. Their anger is fake; their amazement is manufactured. If there’s “fury” – it is one pulled from a diplomatic toolbox, one aimed at getting something in return for the public embarrassment.
If American conservatives are looking for an opportunity to support their President – I think this is it.
Micah Cohen of 538 wrote a couple of days ago: “Polls have consistently shown Americans are deeply wary of the United States becoming involved in the fighting in Syria. But they also show that public support for intervention increases sharply under circumstances where it is confirmed that the Assad regime used chemical weapons”. I’m unconvinced. In our 4 posts entitled What Americans Think About Syria we’ve seen very little change even though the public is now quite convinced that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime.
Here’s an updated table with two new polls. As you can see: support for intervention is still very low. Of course, Cohen is right to point out that Americans seem to be more supportive of intervention when chemical weapons are specifically mentioned. However, it is puzzling to see how even though the public is – at this point – convinced that such weapons were used, it is still saying “no” to intervention. We see different responses only when the question actually mentions chemicals. What can we learn from this? Americans know what’s going on, but prefer to repress the disturbing news and remain in opposition to any action.
Home news: here’s a report on the panel I moderated ages ago (that is, a week and a half ago) at Israel’s Presidential Conference:
Read more about next-generation Jewish leadership here.
More home news: I wrote last week about my son and about “some recent complaints made by Israeli students. The students found this year's matriculation exams in math and history extremely difficult”. My article asked if “the Education Ministry [is] out of touch with what students can reasonably be expected to know? Are the students becoming too soft for their own good?”
In the case of math we got our answer a couple of days ago: “The Education Ministry admitted Monday that this spring's five-unit matriculation examination in mathematics was too difficult… It was decided that the results, due out at the end of June, will reflect the best point total out of a reduced number of questions, at which point students can decide whether or not to take a make-up test”.