- In the midst of racking up an unchallengeable lead in
the race to be the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Kerry is
reported by the New York Times to have told Jewish leaders in an early
March meeting in New York that he would continue the close ties to Israel
that have often dominated policies of the Bush administration. Kerry also
volunteered to this group that the 24-foot concrete barrier the Israeli
leadership is building around the Palestinians is a "fence, not a
wall". Given his success in the primaries it is not at all clear why
he felt the need to pander to this group, but he may have taken to heart
the assertion of some political pundits that no candidate for President
of the United States, Democrat or Republican, can get the job without Jewish
financial support. Given their media, communications, financial and other
corporate power that may even be true.
- Since World War II the United States has extended financial
and political support to Israel regardless of that country's conduct.
Despite systematic expulsion of the Palestinians from their ancestral homes,
destruction of their villages, confiscation of their property, and more
than fifty years of mistreatment of the Palestinian people, the United
States has never wavered in its support. Without exception the United
States has vetoed any UN effort to call the Israelis to account for their
behavior, and the United States has refused even to take part in virtually
universal international criticism of the abominable wall. The consequences
have been a slow erosion of US influence in the region and the loss of
any moral authority, a condition that Bush neo-conservative advisers appear
to have persuaded him can be corrected only by asserting military power
over the region.
- What Kerry did in New York, thoughtfully or not, was
tie the presidency he may win to the failing war-making strategy Bush has
attempted in Iraq and the lop-sided road map Bush has contrived for Palestine.
Those were problems Kerry likely would face in his potential presidency
as they appeared in March. As a political maneuver, his commitment to Jewish
leadership obviously looked promising to Kerry. Oddly enough, aligning
with Israel may pull the votes of a number of conservative Christian Bush
supporters over to the Kerry team. That could certainly occur because
Kerry states more sensible positions on economic policies than Bush, and
Kerry certainly has the better head for such matters.
- On Wednesday, however, in a Washington meeting with Ariel
Sharon, Bush conceded that the Israelis could keep their major settlements
in the West Bank, and he said the Palestinians would have no right of return
to homes and properties from which, over a period of more than fifty years,
they have been expelled by the Israelis. Bush had neither authority nor
ownership rights to make those concessions, and therefore the action may
lack legal meaning, but in reality Bush turned the Israeli ribbon Kerry
may have thought he was wearing into a dead albatross, an ancient symbol
of bad luck.
- Obviously without intending to do so, with his commitment
to Israel Kerry has preset for himself a failed Middle East strategy.
No matter how the exit from Iraq turns out, a strict pro-Israeli policy
will assure failure to find a solution for Palestine. In one morning of
politicking in New York Kerry will have sacrificed the good will and possible
foreign policy support of a billion Muslims for the good of a Zionist cause
that an increasing number of Jews do not support.
- Moreover, this week Osama bin Laden made a flat out Israeli
support choice potentially even more costly. In a peace message to European
and other leaders, as reported in Middle East media, bin Laden promised
that al Qaida would not repeat the Madrid bombings or attacks in their
countries if European leaders "halt actions against any country that
commits itself to refraining from attacking Muslims or intervening in their
affairs". This may be an obvious bid to deepen the rift between European
leaders and the Bush administration, as the Bush concessions to Sharon
are already doing, but it also makes clear that Palestine remains a major
al Qaida issue.
- Between them Bush and bin Laden have given Kerry an awkward
choice. He can back away from his commitment to Jewish leaders and face
their anger as well as the charge of being soft on terrorism that will
surely come from Republicans. Or he can stick to his commitment and face
insoluble foreign policy choices if he is elected. His minimum damage control
solution appears to be a quick and unequivocal distancing of himself and
the Democratic Party from the Bush concessions to Sharon. If he does not
do at least that much he will carry the albatross to the polls. But even
more damaging, his failure to disavow the Bush concessions will make it
clear to the American people that their foreign policy and terrorism risk
prospects are bleak no matter who wins in 2004.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He welcomes comments at email@example.com