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November 10, 2013 11:40 am

John Kerry’s Special Brand of Public Diplomacy

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avatar by Arik Elman


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat. Photo: State Department.

Here’s a new tactic to get your apprehensive and sometimes paranoid ally to support your outreach to his mortal enemy: bully him and his people on national television in their country! That’s what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did during his recent trip to Israel to shore up the “promising” peace talks.

The tactic chosen by Kerry was quite in line with the general behavior of the administration he represents. Not quite having made peace with the fact that Binyamin Netanyahu is an Israeli leader chosen by its people, Obama and his cohorts have tried time and again to upstage him. During his historic visit to Israel in March, Obama first  pressured Netanyahu to make an unwarranted apology to Obama’s true pal in the region – Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan – and then tried to incite a hand-picked audience at the Jerusalem Convention Center to rebel against their government and demand “peace” – as if Netanyahu has hidden it in the drawer of his desk and is refusing to share.

But up until this point, Obama’s efforts to undermine Netanyahu have failed. Netanyahu has managed to compel both Obama and the Palestinians to return to negotiations on Israeli terms – no building freeze beyond the “Green Line” and no mention of the “1967 borders.” The Israeli Prime Minister was so confident in his victory that he agreed to the painful gesture of freeing another batch of Palestinian war criminals so that Mahmoud Abbas could save face.

Since both sides recognize that there’s a better chance for a snowball to survive in Hell than for them to reach any accommodation on the core issues of the conflict, and since the Palestinians are the one party that can never be blamed for stalling the negotiations, Obama has created an artificial crisis. Obviously, the Palestinians knew that Israel was going to keep expanding settlements, and making an issue of this literally in the middle of a party honoring the “glorious fighters” who spent decades in jail for killing Jewish civilians is not just bad faith, but a breathtaking Chutzpah. Nevertheless, for a great diplomat like John Kerry, this was a golden opportunity to make his own mark on the psyche of the Israeli public.

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And boy, what a mark he made. Using hostile body language and making grimaces that visibly astonished his Israeli interviewer, Udi Segal, Kerry took upon himself the mantle of a Palestinian spokesman, denouncing settlements and threatening Israel with violence and isolation. Kerry’s message went through loud and clear – unless Israel accepts all Palestinian territorial demands, it will be blamed by the United States for the failure of the negotiations, and the indiscriminate use of violence by Palestinians will be viewed by Washington as a completely legitimate response.

Kerry didn’t offer a word of censure against the glorification of terrorists by Palestinian officials from Abbas down, or the cult of anti-Semitism and “martyrdom” that is enshrined in the official Palestinian education system. Perhaps Kerry’s most astonishing comment came when he attacked the Israeli decision to build new homes in Jerusalem. “If you say you want peace in Palestine and all Palestine belongs to the people who live there, how can you build in a place that eventually will be Palestine? It sends a message that you aren’t serious,” proclaimed Kerry, blissfully unaware that he just stated several Palestinian positions as his own, namely: 1) there’s such a thing as “Palestine” and it belongs only to Arabs; 2) Jerusalem is part of this “Palestine;” and 3) Jews are not people.

If such an overbearing and hostile performance was intended, it proved beyond any doubt that Kerry has absolutely no idea what kind of audience he was trying to bully. Israelis want peace, like America, and distrust Netanyahu – that’s true – but they don’t care to be browbeaten by a representative of an Administration which supported Islamists in Egypt, Libya, and Turkey, that caved on Syria, and that is about to cave on Iran. Moreover – they know that they owe their security not to the Palestinian “non-violent” leadership, but to the efforts of Israeli army and intelligence officers, who continuously disrupt attempts to rebuild the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism that was destroyed after 2002.

To judge by their reactions on Facebook, most Israelis, regardless of their political preferences, went to bed on Thursday wishing to slap John Kerry in the face. Prime Minister Netanyahu saw the same interview and gauged the reactions of his voters. Friday morning, he responded by rejecting Kerry and Obama’s pending deal with Iran. Netanyahu threw the gauntlet in Kerry’s face, and did it with the full approval of his people, still smarting from Thursday’s bullying session.

In addition, since Kerry took special care to imply that Netanyahu is a liar for stating that Palestinians agreed to be quiet on settlements in exchange for the release of terrorists, the Secretary of State has completely lost trust with the Israeli Prime Minister. This should do wonders for American-Israeli cooperation on those two issues that President Obama cherishes so much – Iranian nukes and a Palestinian state. Stay tuned.

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