Kerry: tilting at peace talks, or redefining America’s role?

News & Insights
Jul 26, 2013

In the Financial Times, columnist Philip Stephens praises US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts in the service of the Israel-Palestine peace process, despite seemingly overwhelming odds against him. Listing a litany of recent failures in US and European foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, Stephens imagines how much worse things might be without Western involvement:

“If Mr Kerry does fail, the two-state game really will be over. Attention will turn to the rights of Palestinians trapped in West Bank bantustans. Israel will be obliged to face up to the choice it has always avoided: a state reaching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river cannot be at once Jewish and democratic.”

As for the rest of the region, while Stephens points to the persistence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the recent coup in Egypt (and the US administration’s refusal to utter the C word) as illustrations of the limits of American power, he also insists that America and its European allies can–and must–play a productive role. In fact, he insists that an American withdrawal from the humanitarian and political field would result in years of chaos and terrible violence:

“Most obviously, Americans and Europeans have a duty to alleviate the humanitarian consequences of conflict – and an interest in doing so. They also have a unique capacity to galvanise regional and international pressure for political settlements.”

Mr. Stephens does not explain why that “unique capacity” hasn’t helped the US get its way in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, or for that matter, Israel. But his call for a refocused American foreign policy that emphasizes mediation over intervention is a hopeful rejoinder to the chorus of voices in Washington and around the world that responds to each new crisis with calls for the US to “do something.”

“Negotiation does not grab the headlines in the way of cruise missiles. The effort will often fail. But as a British prime minister once said, there is not much in the way of an alternative. As Israel might have learnt, the one thing that does not bring peace is war. So Mr. Kerry is right. We should cheer him on.”