The Israel-Arab Conflict Should be the Last Item on John Kerry’s To-Do-List
This week the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister blamed mass protests in his country on the ‘Jewish Diaspora.’ Millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding the ousting of President Morsi who was subsequently removed from power by the Egyptian military. Jordan blocked 254 news websites and Iran was discovered to be importing missile-grade ore from Germany and France. The world was also reminded of the savagery that is Syria’s civil war when a video of rebels decapitating a Catholic priest with a kitchen knife went viral.
And John Kerry visited Israel. Again.
Just about everyone is wondering why.
His fifth time in the last three months, Kerry was on an Israel-PA ‘peace process’ shuttle diplomacy bender that included an all-night session with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and a press conference at the end that was optimistic in tone, but nothing else.
“What’s John Kerry doing here?” asked Ben Sales in a JTA column. “John Kerry’s bid for Mideast peace is doomed,” declared veteran commentator Jeffrey Goldberg writing for Bloomberg. “Chaos in Middle East grows as the U.S. focuses on Israel,” ran a New York Times headline, and more subtlely a Chicago Sun Times article announced that “Kerry’s admirable Mideast push faces daunting obstacles.”
Citing “former administration officials,” The New York Times tried its hand at an explanation, suggesting that Kerry is focusing on Israel and the Palestinian Authority because it is the only place in the region where the United States can still exert influence. No doubt hard to believe, and considerably worrying if true. Another explanation The Times cites, that strikes me as just strange, is that it is really all about Jordan. “Resuscitating the peace process is also vital to Jordan,” former State Department official Dennis Ross told the paper, “which is reeling from the wave of refugees from Syria and can ill afford a new wave of Palestinian unrest in the neighboring West Bank.”
More likely, the reason Kerry is focused on Israel and the Palestinian Authority is because Arab states and their friends and backers continue to push the issue to the fore, mostly to distract from their own internal failings. The ‘linkage’ ideology is alive and well in the Arab world, not because it is true but because blaming Israel serves the interests of most Arab despots.
Since the beginning of the year Kerry has visited numerous Muslim countries including Afghanistan, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Brunei, some of them multiple times. It is likely that at each stop he has been greeted with the same advice; solve the “Israeli problem” first.
But if there is one thing that the escalating events in the Middle East have made abundantly clear to the Israelis, it is that there is no long term stability without real democracy, and there can be no sustainable peace without stability.
Events in Egypt, Turkey, Syria and beyond have shown that an agreement with any autocrat whose time in power is likely to be short-lived would not be sustainable. PA Chairman Abbas is an autocrat and therefore can’t be propped up in any sustainable way with all the will in the world.
George W. Bush was right. If America wishes to export peace, it must first export democracy. And if it is progress that Kerry seeks, this is where he must begin.
The situation in Egypt provides a prime opportunity to start with. U.S. support for either side should be made conditional on the establishment of a true democratic system of government. Elections alone are not enough, as Natan Sharansky writes in The Case for Democracy, “A society that is not free but in which elections are held, should never be considered democratic.” The ‘linkage’ that actually works is the linkage of Ronald Reagan and ‘Scoop’ Jackson, whereby the United States establishes its relationships based on how said country treats its own citizens.
In the meantime, John Kerry is trying to place a cherry on a cake that has yet to be baked. If Kerry wants peace in the region he must introduce the region to the ways of peace, to democracy, first.