Senator John F. Kerry would have American Jews believe that he will be as good, if not better, for Israel than President George W. Bush. Don’t believe it.
Kerry points to the fact that he has endorsed the Israeli security fence (after initially calling it a "barrier to peace" in a speech to an Arab group) and agrees with President Bush that Arafat is "not a partner for peace" (even as he pledges to re-engage in active American peacemaking between Palestinians and Israelis).
Yet there are many reasons to doubt the depth of Kerry’s commitment to Israel. Much of his support is derived from the Michael Moore-wing of the Democratic Party, which views Bush as a prisoner of the "Likud lobby" in the Defense Department.
Kerry’s leading foreign policy advisors are almost all veterans of the Clinton administration and the failed Oslo process. The New York Times, which has been furiously promoting Kerry, not just in its editorials, but on its news pages as well, has called for a return to the active Middle East peace-making of the Oslo years to "break the deadlock" and for greater American even-handedness. As an example of the latter, the paper blames "the Palestinian drift towards lawlessness and terror" on the failure of America to enforce a total freeze on Israeli settlements.
Most importantly, Kerry has made rapprochement with European "allies" the centerpiece of his foreign policy approach. Yet as Charles Krauthammer points there is only one currency with which he can win European favor: adopting Europe’s approach to Israel. Kerry foreign policy advisor and former Clinton national security advisor Sandy Berger writes in a manifesto to Kerry, "As part of a new bargain with our allies, the United States must re-engage in . . . ending the Israeli-Palestine conflict."
The European approach might be labeled Oslo plus. In the European view, the sole goal of the "peace process" is the creation of a Palestinian state. The EU has already announced that it will shortly unveil its peace plan, which calls for an Israeli return to the 1949 armistice borders and the creation of a Palestinian state. Whether that Palestinian state will live in peace with Israel is of decidedly lesser concern to the Europeans, as, indeed, is Israel’s very survival.
According to the current European mindset, all problems can be settled by rational bureaucrats sitting around a conference table. (Not surprisingly, Clinton/Kerry advisor Sandy Berger has expressed the same confidence that there is no problem without a solution.) European bureaucrats have drawn a line on the map between Israel and the projected Palestinian state that they deem "fair."
Having determined the "rational" result, the Europeans would be happy to impose their solution on the parties, just as they impose regulations on the curvature in bananas throughout the EC. Lacking the power to force Israeli compliance, they look to the United States to do so.
The Europeans show little concern with the intentions of the parties or the likelihood of their compliance with the terms imposed on them – the agreement’s the thing. In the same manner, the entire Oslo process made a fetish of written agreements. Progress was measured exclusively by the number of agreements signed, with little attention paid to the value of the undertakings made in those agreements. At every stage, the Palestinians failure to fulfill past agreements was ignored, and Israel was asked to make new concessions in return for the same old Palestinian promises.
The most intensive American involvement ever in Middle East peacemaking, which culminated at Camp David, triggered the most intense wave of Palestinian terrorism yet seen in the region. The more the Palestinians became convinced that Israel was vulnerable to American pressure the more convinced they were that violence served their cause.
Those who now call for American re-engagement in the "peace process" and the sending of special envoys to the region (as Kerry has promised to do) still have not come to grips with the underlying reasons why intense American efforts resulted in exactly the opposite of what they were meant to achieve. Repeatedly Israel was told that Arafat could not be expected to live up to his commitments because the Palestinian street was not ready for peace with Israel. Therefore he should not be pressured to take steps towards peace. Somehow sensitivity to the Palestinian resistance to peace was supposed to lead magically to peace.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO OVERSTATE the extent of George W. Bush’s break with all the assumptions of Oslo. Bush recognizes that peace cannot come from drawing a line on a map. It can only result from a strategic decision by the Palestinians to live in peace. Until the Palestinians show such a desire, there is nothing to talk about.
Bush has made clear that the desire for peace cannot be reconciled with continued incitement against Israel and Jews. (Since Oslo I, Palestinian hatred has only become more frenzied in response to the Palestinian media’s encouragement of a death cult of martyrdom, and another generation of Palestinian children has been raised to view their highest goal in life as the killing of Jews.) Peace cannot be reconciled with the irredentist claim to the entirety of "Palestine" from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. Nor can it be reconciled with a "right of return," which means the end of Israel. And until the Palestinians move forcefully against terrorism, there is no reason to credit them with any intention of living in peace with Israel.
President Bush has placed the ball squarely in the Palestinians court. No longer will all concessions be demanded from Israel as the stronger party to the conflict. A Palestinian state, the President made clear in his June 24, 2002 speech on the Middle East, should not be viewed as an automatic prize after the passage of a specified period of time. Rather it must be earned.
Bush called upon Palestinians to prove themselves capable of statehood by creating the institutions of a democratic society. As long as the Palestinian Authority remains a corrupt kleptocracy, without financial transparency, an independent judiciary, and freedom of speech and press, Israel would have no reason to view it as a partner with whom to negotiate peace. Failed dictatorships always require an external enemy to demonize in order to distract the population from its own failures. Thus without Palestinian democracy peaceful coexistence is impossible.
The Texas cowboy has rejected lock, stock and barrel the entire Middle East approach of the solons of the EU and the UN, to whose views Kerry accords such great respect, thereby incurring their enmity. In refusing to force Israel to talk until there is something to talk about, he has rejected Europe’s tired refrain – recently reiterated by British foreign minister Jack Straw at a Labor party conference – that the Arab-Israeli conflict is at the root of every threat to world peace.
The difference between Bush and the Europeans is not a matter of nuance but a chasm. And that chasm divides Bush’s approach from that likely to be followed by a Kerry administration as well.
As Anne Bayefsky has astutely noted, if American Jews fail to acknowledge that chasm when they go to the polls "no future Democratic president will ever feel that protecting the state of Israel is necessary to win Jewish votes – and no future Republican president will ever take the heat as President Bush has done."