Conservative Leader Attacks Kerry For Pursuing Middle East Peace

CREDIT: AP/Brendan Smialowski

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Leading conservative Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, criticized Secretary of State John Kerry this week for pursuing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, saying Kerry risks upending “the quietest place in the region.”

Kerry helped restart the moribund peace process last year and has since assembled a team of top experts and diplomats to handle the issue and made numerous trips to the region to help facilitate the talks.

Speaking with Frank Gaffney on his radio show on Tuesday, Kristol attacked the Obama administration’s foreign policy and roped in Kerry’s efforts in the Middle East. “I mean Kerry’s maniacal insistence on a peace process in the Middle East when tens of thousands of people are being killed next door,” he said, adding that Kerry is “obsessed with disrupting” the relative calm in Israel and the Palestinian Territories:

… [W]hen everything is spinning out of control basically in ever country around and Israel and the West Bank is actually the quietest place in the region you know and he’s obsessed with disrupting that actually. I mean the whole thing is, you sort of look at one thing and you can’t believe it and then you look at the next administration policy in the next country and you can’t believe it.

Kristol’s criticism echoes comments from various U.S. Republican lawmakers, particularly Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said last year that Kerry should stop focusing on Middle East peace.

But some of the most severe attacks on Kerry for his efforts — including suggestions that his efforts and actions are anti-Semitic — have been coming from Israeli officials. “In reality, there have been no negotiations between us and the Palestinians for all these months — but rather between us and the Americans. The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reportedly said last month. Kerry, Ya’alon added, “who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor, cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians.” He later apologized for his remarks.

Another right-wing Israeli parliamentarian went further, claiming that Kerry’s supposed “obsessive pressure” has “anti-Semitic undertones,” a theme that carried on into this week after Kerry warned that Israel risks further isolation and boycotts if it does not reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. “We expect of our friends in the world to stand by our side against the attempts to impose an anti-Semitic boycott on Israel, and not to be their mouthpiece,” Jewish Home Party leader and Economics Minister Naftali Bennet said in response.

The attacks on Kerry led Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Adviser, to lash out on Twitter. “Personal attacks in Israel directed at Sec Kerry totally unfounded and unacceptable,” she tweeted on Monday. “John Kerry’s record of support for Israel’s security and prosperity rock solid.”

Rice said that the U.S. is committed to the peace talks and that the U.S. government “has been clear and consistent that we reject efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel.”

So why has Kerry put some much effort and capital into this issue? Last year, as he was mobilizing to restart the peace talks, the former Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential candidate explained. “I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have some period of time a year, a year and a half, to two years or its over,” he said. “So there’s an urgency to this in my mind.”

Kerry’s view is widely held among Middle East focused analysts and organizations and even among Israeli officials and the Israeli security establishment. Should a two-state solution fail, said Yuval Diskin, the former head of Israel’s internal security service, “we will face an immediate existential threat of the erasure of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”