Donald Trump tweeted this morning that he was coming to Israel’s rescue, to just hold on until January 20th. That was not the message Secretary of State John Kerry sent today in a speech at The Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington, DC.
Kerry was highly critical of Israeli foreign policy: “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths,” he said, “and friendships require mutual respect.”
Ignoring ideology and wishful thinking, Kerry stuck to hard truths:
“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements.”
He might well have been speaking about American foreign policy at this same time next year.
He added that,
“The result is that policies of this government — which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ — are leading in the opposite direction, toward one state.”
Kerry stressed America’s own long-term support for a two-state solution and that Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions put that future in jeopardy.
Throughout his administration, President Obama has been deeply committed to Israel and its security, and that commitment has guided his pursuit of peace in the Middle East. This is an issue which I’ve worked on intensely during my time as Secretary of State for one simple reason: because the two state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. And it is an important way of advancing U.S. interests in the region.
I would like to explain why that future is now in jeopardy, and provide some context for why we could not, in good conscience, stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.
While Republicans want to basically give control of America’s foreign policy over to Israel, Kerry stressed that the primary job of a secretary of state – and it goes without saying, a president of the United States – has as his first responsibility the defense of this country, a point Republicans seem more and more willing to forget:
“I want to stress that point: My job, above all, is to defend the United States of America — to stand up for and defend our values and our interests in the world. If we were to stand idly by and know that in doing so we are allowing a dangerous dynamic to take hold which promises greater conflict and instability to a region in which we have vital interests, we would be derelict in our own responsibilities.”
Obviously, much of what Kerry said needed to be explained to Republicans, as he broke down the UN vote in terms even they should be able to understand:
[W]e cannot properly defend and protect Israel — if we allow a viable two state solution to be destroyed before our eyes.
And that’s the bottom line: the vote in the UN was about preserving the two state solution. That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors.
Diplomacy for Trump seems limited to what can be managed via 140-character sound-bytes, and you cannot develop complex thoughts in 140-characters or less. Simply reacting to every imagined slight, or every challenge to his preconceptions, does not reveal a president-elect who understands the complexities of the world beyond his fantasy visions.
Trump insists he is a “smart guy” but he has steadfastly refused to demonstrate that fact, and the mischief he and Netanyahu can make in the next four years is frightening in a world returned to arms races and nuclear proliferation.
Kerry concluded with a sober assessment, saying there is “simply too much at stake – for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians — to give in to pessimism, especially when peace is in fact still possible. We must not lose hope in the possibility of peace.”
Our own right wing has become too extreme to compromise, and it is clear than Israeli’s right wing, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, suffers from the same character defect. Responding to Kerry’s speech, the Israeli prime minister said Kerry was “blaming Israel for the lack of peace,” and that, “Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders.”
Donald Trump has not responded yet, but when he does, it is sure to be in the form of some highly volatile and ill-thought out tweets expressing the sum total of his intellectual capacity. And that’s not saying much.
You can manage dogmatic assertions in 140 characters. You cannot achieve peace.