In his Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony last week, Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Israel for the breakdown in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He argued that an Israeli announcement of 700 new housing units for a neighborhood in Jerusalem were what did in the talks. “Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry said. “We find ourselves where we are.”
This is an amazing claim, especially when the housing units are not in a settlement—but are in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, in a location that every Israeli and every Palestinian knows will be part of Israel in any possible peace agreement.
In fact, Kerry’s actions during his 15 months as secretary of state are why “we find ourselves where we are.” The only surprise here is the total lack of introspection or comprehension he exhibits. Kerry jumped into these negotiations, secure in the belief that he could deliver success—and therefore not even thinking about the damage that could be done if the talks blew up. But why—why was he so confident? What was his analysis of world affairs, of events in the region, or of the politics of the two sides that led him to conclude this was the moment—2013 and 2014—when a deal was at hand?
The answer is found in his speech last December to the Saban Forum, a gathering of Israeli and American officials and former officials at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Here are the key passages:
Late last night I got back from my eighth visit to Israel . . . my eighth visit as secretary of state. Now, I am not a masochist. (Laughter.) I am undertaking this because I believe in the possibilities. And as many of you know, I have spent almost 30 years in the United States Senate, and I’m proud of my 100 percent voting record for Israel, but I’m proud also that I built up relationships in the Mideast with leaders in Arab countries and elsewhere who learned that they could come to trust me. And I believe that I approach this great challenge with a huge sense of responsibility about building trust and ultimately building a process that will test and provide guarantees to people about this concept called peace.
I will tell you point blank, and I’ve read all of the history of these negotiations and I’ve lived part of the history of these negotiations. I was on the lawn when the famous handshake took place. And I’ve had many, many a meeting over the course of time as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and as a senator.
But I believe that if you indeed care about Israel, and everybody here does, if you care about its security, if you care about its future, if you care about Palestinians achieving their legitimate aspirations for self-determination, which we do also, we need to believe that peace is possible. And we all need to act on that belief.
This is a combination of faith-based diplomacy and personal vanity. The argument seems to be that peace is possible because Kerry has relationships with leaders, Kerry is trusted, Kerry was in the Senate for 30 years, Kerry chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, and Kerry was on the White House lawn when Rabin shook hands with Arafat. So our job is to have faith in him, and if we believe that peace is possible, it will come.
This latter is known as the Tinkerbell Effect, based on the passage in Peter Pan where the fairy Tinkerbell has taken poison but can be revived if people believe in her.
Peter flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland. . . . “If you believe,” he shouted to them, “clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.”
Apparently it didn’t work with the Palestinians, who failed to clap. Kerry’s casting of blame at Israel was rebuffed sharply by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: An official in his office told the New York Times, “Secretary Kerry knows that it was the Palestinians who said ‘no’ to continued direct talks with Israel in November; who said ‘no’ to his proposed framework for final status talks; who said ‘no’ to even discussing recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; who said ‘no’ to a meeting with Kerry himself; and who said ‘no’ to an extension of the talks.”
And remember, this comes after various bribes were paid to the Palestinians to get them to come to the negotiating table after four years of refusal—Barack Obama’s entire first term. One of those bribes was the release of 78 murderers from Israeli jails—Palestinian terrorists who were granted a hero’s welcome upon returning home. This is the rebuttal to those who believe Kerry’s 15 months of efforts have produced nothing at all: Seventy-eight killers are free, anyway. It is also the rebuttal to those who think that efforts like Kerry’s may of course fail but come at little cost: Freeing killers is a cost. Failure for the United States is a cost. And now, blaming Israel and thereby damaging U.S.-Israel relations is another cost.
Kerry gets an A for effort, to be sure, and was sincere and dogged throughout these 15 months of exertion. He displayed a deep desire to help both sides move forward. But his own vanity got in the way of a sober assessment of the chances for success, and the failure of the effort—even if sooner or later the two sides do sit down together again—diminishes his own prestige and effectiveness as our top diplomat. It’s past time for the administration to keep him home and spend a while rethinking five years of failed Middle East policy. “Clap your hands; don’t let Tink die” doesn’t make the grade.