On Wednesday John Kerry managed to attract more attention with what amounted to a declaration of failure than any success he has achieved during his tenure as Secretary of State. In his speech blasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which came on the heels of US abstention on a United Nations resolution condemning settlements, Kerry all but conceded that a two state solution is as dead as the Dodo bird. Leading Democrats such as Senate minority leader Charles Schumer criticised the speech and want nothing to do with anything that might drive traditionally Jewish Democratic voters to the GOP.
Obama himself had long washed his hands of any attempt to broker a grand Middle East peace, humouring Kerry’s diligent but Sisyphean efforts of the past few years. In the end, however, he and Kerry couldn’t resist a parting shot at Netanyahu, one that the prime minister termed ‘biased,’ which is what he calls criticisms that he does not like. Kerry mused about whether it was really in America’s national interest to support Israel in its current path, a question that younger American Jews have been posing as well. But Kerry’s exhortation was above all aimed, not so much at Americans, as at Israelis themselves in the hope that they might take a second, or third, look at just where the relentless expansion of settlements is taking them.
The result of this diplomatic kerfuffle is that Donald Trump – until recently the hero of the alt right during his campaign, down to Hail Trump! salutes being shouted in his honour – is emerging as the Jewish state’s unflinching champion. On Twitter – where else? – Trump condemned Obama for treating Israel with ‘disdain and disrespect’. Together with his announcement of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, who has likened liberal American Jews to kapos helping to liquidate their brethren in Nazi concentration camps, Trump is emerging as Netanyahu’s closest ally.
It’s a popular stand on the right. Writing in Politico, Gregg Carlstrom reports that that on December 13 the Israeli ambassador to America, Ron Dermer, was feted by Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy. Gaffney is a conspiracy theorist who alleges, among other goofy things, that the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile there are fresh rumblings on the American right about the US pulling out of the UN altogether.
For all the enthusiasm that Trump and Netanyahu may evince for one another, it has to be sobering for Israelis to contemplate the actual tally of the security council vote. France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia voted for the resolution. Russia, mind you, even though Israel forbore to condemn its annexation of Crimea and refused to sign onto an inquiry into war crimes in Syria. International isolation, in short, looms.
Netanyahu’s indignation may be a measure of his realisation that he cannot indefinitely escape the consequences of trying to placate the Israeli far right, which is bent on a policy of annexation and, ultimately, extrusion. Kerry may not succeed in altering Israeli policy, but his broadside has put the issue of settlements front and centre on the international stage. So far, Trump has given every indication that he intends to support forces to the right of Netanyahu – but that will not help Israel escape its predicament. His approach may only intensify it.