Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Kerry's Scare Tactics

by Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi

Despite the deep political and ideological gaps between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and one of his predecessors, Henry Kissinger, who held the same job 40 years ago, one gets the impression that Kerry's latest comments about the dangers of international delegitimization now on Israel's doorstep come directly from the Kissinger school of iniquity, intrigue and manipulation.

Kissinger repeatedly made use of this tactic during the Nixon and Ford administrations, evident in the apocalyptic forecasts he relayed to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his cabinet in 1975. Those terrible forecasts, Kissinger warned, would come to fruition if Israel and Egypt failed to implement an interim deal over the Sinai Peninsula, which was supposed to be based on a unilateral Israeli withdrawal to the Mitla and Gidi passes with no diplomatic compensation in return. 

Kissinger also emphasized that he was not threatening Israel. His statements about renewed Soviet infiltration in the region, which could be expected if the negotiations were to collapse, and about Israel's international isolation, caused by its insistence on keeping "a few pitiful kilometers of sand," left no doubt as to his intent. It was a transparent attempt (which ultimately failed) to rally internal and external public support of his policies by presenting the Rabin government as rejectionist and which was liable to squander America's diplomatic achievements in the Middle East following the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Notwithstanding the clear difference in regional circumstances since those frosty days in U.S.-Israel relations, Kerry has steadfastly held to the tactic of hiding behind an allegedly objective analysis of Israel's diplomatic and strategic standing. Like Kissinger, Kerry too wants to legitimize and accelerate the processes he identifies (primarily the boycott endeavor), thereby rendering Israel exposed and in the open in the midst of these heated negotiations.

In 1975, Kissinger's efforts ended in vain, and his chilling prophecies about Israel's "march toward its own destruction" were quickly proved hollow. Today, as opposed to Kissinger, Kerry is operating in an international (if not domestic as well) environment that is contrarian toward Israel. Moreover, while the secretary of state in 1975 never intended to include other actors in the peace outline, Kerry is acting in complete conjunction with international elements such as the European Union, which is for him a comfortable lever to use to apply pressure directly on Israel.

With that, and despite the more palatable global circumstances in Kerry's favor, the over-exuberance he is displaying testifies to a preference for procedure over essence, which could become his biggest stumbling block. Was he not harboring such high contempt for the George W. Bush administration and its legacy, it's possible he would prefer to diverge from his current concept and instead embrace a more updated and revised version of the multi-staged "Road Map" from April 2003. 

Even though it was not enough a decade ago to provide the hoped-for breakthrough, dusting it off now under the current conditions could somewhat minimize the dangers for both sides and create a dynamic of progress, which only at its culmination -- and not at its beginning as the present guideline calls for -- will the moment of truth arrive. The fact that this approach could thrust American diplomacy back in time directly to Kissinger's era of phased diplomacy is, of course, a different matter altogether.

Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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