Kerry's Faults: 4 Errors That Undermined Middle East Peace

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had high hopes of bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together, but fell into the same traps as other would-be saviors of the Middle East of the past.

Kerry and Netanyahu in Jerusalem on April 9, 2013
Kerry and Netanyahu in Jerusalem on April 9, 2013
Benjamin Barthe

PARIS - By refusing to come out in favor of the Israelis or the Palestinians, plunging the region into a new crisis that could be fatal to the talks relaunched last July, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did a disservice to peace in the Middle East.

In this chapter of the regional saga, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, remained faithful to their respective original positions. The one who failed his mission is the American man in the middle, and it can be explained in four key points.

Colonization at full capacity. In 2013, the number of houses under construction in the West Bank’s settlements increased by 123% compared to 2012, while inside Israel, over the same period, the increase did not go over… 4%! The first reason for the current turmoil lies within these two numbers from the Israeli statistics office. Kerry did not manage to stop or even slow down the steamrolling policy of settlement expansion. Allowing this to happen has led to two serious consequences: he de facto sabotages the two-state solution along the 1967 lines, which is the most realistic formula to resolve the conflict; and he perpetuates the impunity of which the Israeli land settlement system has taken advantage. Since July, 56 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, 146 houses destroyed and 550 attacks by settlers have been reported. During the same period, five Israelis have been killed.

Europeans left out. John Kerry was not ready to rebalance the lack of symmetry inherent to any negotiation between an occupier and an occupied, but he could have delegated this task to the Europeans. When Brussels announced, at the resumption of the talks, new directives excluding the Jewish settlements from the EU-led cooperation programs, it augured a distribution of roles: Europe applies the stick, the U.S. offers the carrot. But Kerry soon gave in to Washington’s unfortunate habit of handling the peace process one-on-one with Israel.

Symbol of this regression: the return as special envoy for the Middle East of Martin Indyk, a former member of the pro-Likud lobby Aipac who was already central during the calamitous Oslo process. The European chancelleries could have shown initiative by accelerating the reflection on the labelling of products from the settlements. But the 28 EU members are reluctant to pressure Israel.

Overshadowed international law. In such a difficult environment, the Palestinians cling to international law. If they accepted that the negotiations would not focus on an integral peace plan, which is considered premature by Israel, but on a simple framework agreement, it was in the hope that it would include the terms of the historical references of the peace process, including the 1967 borders established by the United Nations Resolution 242.

But instead of concentrating on this corpus, an impassable base for any peace agreement, Kerry let himself get trapped by Netanyahu into a pointless discussion on two unacceptable points for the Palestinians: the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and maintaining Israeli troops in the Jordan valley. It was only in the middle of March that the Secretary of State dared to declare that the polarized debate on the Jewish state question was a “mistake.” Too late.

Before he relaunched the negotiations, did his advisors show him the notorious amateur video, dating from 2001 and available on the Internet, where Netanyahu, with a family of settlers and unaware that he was being filmed, is bragging about having derailed the Oslo process? In front of the settlers, who are worried about the West’s reaction, he proudly explains: “I know the United States, it’s something we can easily move in the right direction…”

No deadline or repercussions for failure. Kerry could have tried to bypass Netanyahu's delaying maneuvers by refusing any extension of the process and by issuing a warning that the party responsible for the blockage would expose itself to repercussions. He could have signified that in case of Israeli obstruction, the U.S. would no longer oppose the Palestinian Authority’s membership in the United Nations, in the continuity of its recognition as a non-member state of the UN in 2012.

The idea is to make sure that the Palestinians would not be the only losers in case of a breakdown of talks. But, in accordance with the mantra of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had stated in Oslo that “there is no sacred date,” the April 29 deadline is no longer valid. At this date, either the dialogue will have resumed without any extra chances of succeeding, or it will be declared dead, without any consequences being drawn from it.

One by one, Kerry has repeated all the errors of his predecessors. As if American diplomacy was incapable of moving beyond the Oslo paradigm, though it has been invalidated from the inside. “When you are serious about peace, call us,” James Baker, one of his predecessors, had eventually said, exasperated by Israeli resistance. That was in 1990. How long can the Palestinians still wait before Netanyahu picks up his phone?

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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