At first blush, it might have sounded like praise, but it wasn't. Before meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced Israel's prosperity an impediment to "peace" with the Palestinians. "I think there is an opportunity [for peace], but for many reasons it's not on the tips of everyone's tongue. People in Israel aren't waking up every day and wondering if tomorrow there will be peace because there is a sense of security and a sense of accomplishment and of prosperity."
So, Secretary Kerry thinks it would be better for Israel to approach negotiations from a position of precarious poverty? Does he think Israel's quest for legitimacy and security in an unstable, over-armed and hostile region would be better received if Israel were a needy, insecure supplicant to Palestinian and Arab interests? Or that the Palestinians would have pity on an unnerved and anxious Israel struggling with a bankrupt, aid-dependent economy?
There are people – not necessary Secretary Kerry – who prefer their Jews as needy supplicants, but that is not a role Israel is prepared to play, thank you. The entire Zionist enterprise is designed precisely to ensure that Jews in the State of Israel are able to wake up every day with a "sense of security" and determine their own interests. The fact that Israelis also wake up with a hard-earned and well-deserved "sense of accomplishment and of prosperity" is icing on the cake.
What Kerry appears to have meant was that this is somehow a pivotal moment for Israel because its prosperity and security may be evanescent. He continued, "Over the horizon… one can see the challenges," that make it important "to resolve this at this moment, when there is a willingness for people to look for a way [to achieve an agreement]."
"At this moment" Israel is a stable, educated, increasingly energy independent, democratic, prosperous country with a military that appears willing and able to defend the people from threats over the horizon. It has a clear understanding with the Kingdom of Jordan for security along the Jordan River that protects both neighbors. It has an almost clear understanding with the President of the United States (and certainly has one with Congress) that the main threat to its security lies in the nuclear aspirations of Iran.
This, says Kerry, is "the moment" Israel should feel a pressing imperative to dump King Abdullah and cut a deal with a Palestinian polity that is bifurcated between a kleptocratic, autocratic, openly anti-Semitic West Bank ruled by a man whose sole elected term ended in 2009, and a corrupt, Islamist, Gaza ruled by terrorist-worshipping, Iranian-sponsored Hamas. Hamas and Fatah are at war with one another and their only point of agreement appears to be that the independence of Israel in 1948 was a mistake waiting to be "rectified." A deal with Mahmoud Abbas, old, ailing, and very unpopular at home, would be a temporary deal at best. If Hamas wins its war, Israel will have stripped itself of vital territory only to find its heavily populated coastline under the same rocket and missile fire that southern Israel now absorbs. And Jordan would similarly find hostile forces aligned with Iran overlooking the Kingdom.
Under those circumstances, the U.S. would do better to tell the Palestinians that there is no deal to be had unless they – both factions – demonstrably accommodate the reality that Israel is a legitimate, permanent part of the region. Otherwise, it is for Israel to determine how best to defend itself from those "challenges over the horizon."
The boundaries of the Levant determined by the British and the French early in the last century are being erased; there is little border left between Lebanon and Syria as militias on all sides fight in both countries. Tribalism and religious enmity from both radical Sunni and radical Shiite expansionists have produced monstrous swamps of Arab blood, and atrocities that rival Rwanda and Cambodia. Iraq is devolving into Sunni and Shiite cantons at war with one another. Turkey, long a country tolerant of Jews and engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship with Israel, has become a financial and political backer of Hamas, which is sworn to the bloody destruction of Israel. Qatar is second only to Turkey in its willingness to be seen as Hamas's benefactor, not to mention Qatar's pledge of $1 billion to "protect the Arabic and Islamic heritage of Jerusalem" (meaning to erase what it can of Jewish patrimony there). Egypt, after a 30-year stable peace, is ruled by a party that eschews relations with Israel and is constrained mainly by its military and its own economic debacle from acting on its ideological platform.
Under the circumstances, Kerry would do better to praise Israel without the forked tongue.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.