Blind rhetoric

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Amman, on June 26, 2013, where he is expected to have meetings on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (AFP PHOTO/JACQUELYN)

During his fifth trip to the Middle East in five months, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to sound an upbeat tone about the prospects for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

It appears as if Kerry didn’t send the Israelis a memo about his current efforts. Or, worse, he did send a memo, which elicited the usual Israeli response: building more settlements on Palestinian land.

From time to time in recent years, and decades, U.S. officials suddenly begin making positive statements about the need for a Palestinian-Israeli peace; sometimes, they even hold talks with the two sides. But in none of these efforts does the U.S. manage to do anything about the core problem: Washington cannot be an honest and impartial broker for a peace process in which it overwhelmingly supports one side over the other with military, economic and political assistance, and refuses to take meaningful steps against that side’s ongoing use of settlement activity which derails hopes for a deal.

As Kerry spoke from Kuwait, Israeli municipal officials in Jerusalem were busy announcing their latest land grab, this time to construct around 70 housing units in Har Homa, a part of Greater Jerusalem that has been occupied by the Israelis.

Once again, the Palestinians wield no tools of meaningful pressure, while the Israelis work against the entire peace process by creating the type of problems that push the two sides further apart. And Kerry makes statements about peace being “difficult,” but “possible.”

Perhaps he is unaware that people in this part of the world have memories, and can recall the more dynamic policies and policymakers from the U.S. in past decades. Whether or not one agrees with the likes of Henry Kissinger or James Baker, at least they had a clear idea of what they wanted their country to do in the Middle East and the rest of the world. In contrast, recent U.S. foreign policy stewards have been engaging in either flagrant disasters, such as on Iraq under Saddam Hussein, or confusing hesitation, such as on Syria, during the current crisis.

U.S. foreign policy these days is reduced to asking officials from Russia and China, of all countries, to respect the notion of the rule of law while begging for help to retrieve Edward Snowden, after he revealed the massive level of surveillance and spying by the National Security Agency.

Kerry, like his predecessor Hillary Clinton and others, appears to ignore the idea that a foreign policy based on making statements and performing positive spin control can run into trouble when people discover there is no actual vision or urgency behind such rhetoric. As a result, Washington’s credibility sinks even further, while the perception that the Obama administration has no true foreign policy steadily gains ground. The only question is whether U.S. officials are truly aware of the damage they are doing to their country’s interests.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 27, 2013, on page 7.




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