President Obama's finest parting shot at alleged ally Bibi Netanyahu came yesterday in John Kerry's State Department speech, a tour de force of diplomatic courage undergirded by strategic prudence. The administration's open breaks with Israel's intransigence are indeed sui generis in the annals of American foreign policy, as Obama's critics have charged, only if one disregards similar breaks by, say, Presidents George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. Still, as the NYT's David Sanger notes, Kerry spoke "with a clarity and harshness almost never heard from American diplomats when discussing one of their closest and strongest allies."
The American vote last week in the United Nations allowing the condemnation of Israel for settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he added, was driven by a desire to save Israel from "the most extreme elements" in its own government. "The status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation," Mr. Kerry said, his voice animated.
His speech was a powerful admonition after years of tension and frustration, with the Obama administration giving public voice to its long-held concern that Israel was headed off a cliff toward international isolation and was condemning itself to a future of low-level, perpetual warfare with the Palestinians.
That Obama's long-held, twofold concerns are conspicuously justified to the point of incontestability seem not to at all trouble his domestic, unconditional pro-Israel detractors (along, of course, with Netanyahu and his ultraright-wing compatriots), notwithstanding that the Middle East state's global pariahhood and perpetual violence are conditions not of the "future," but of the present. Israel's ever-expanding West Bank settlements are, as Kerry reaffirmed yesterday, not the only obstacle to a two-state resolution; they are, however, the most aggressive manifestation of Israel's unseriousness in achieving any such plausible resolution. Its illegal settlements are a contemptuous affront to diplomatic consensus and world opinion, especially that of its long-exasperated sponsor, the United States. The latter, in Netanyahu's view, is to suffer in silence while violating its own principles upholding international law, while the prime minister's foremost principle is to take the U.S.'s money and run.
And now, just as tragically for Israel, its superpower ally and the Middle East, comes President-elect Donald Trump, a crass foreign policy know-nothing whose degenerate simplicity of mind staggers those of conscience and a commitment to regional peace and security. His reaction to Kerry's monitory speech, expressed in Twitterdom's textbook unsophistication of a few characters, was "not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!"
Fast approaching is much more than that. Trump's inaugural reversal of America's principled opposition to Israel's notoriously illegal West Bank settlements will embody the true, sui generis upending of long-standing policy. Joining Israel's international pariahhood will be the United States -- officially -- and if Trump's tweeted imbecility is to be believed, Israel's most devoted foe, Iran, will be unilaterally liberated by the U.S. from its multilaterally achieved, no-nuclear weapons agreement. A more promising, American-Iranian military conflict is inconceivable.
Whole bevies of foreign policy analysts persist in their expressed belief that come January 20th, President Trump will somehow morph into a thoughtful, responsible statesman. This belief may well be the quintessence of naiveté, for President-elect Trump persists in giving every indication that his unschooled, ruinous simplicities of mind are going nowhere -- that they will, indeed, be the predominant feature of American foreign policy. God help us.