What John Kerry Must Face

By Terrell E. Arnold
Last night John Kerry resoundingly threw his hat into the ring to become President of the United States. In the same ringing tones, he committed himself and his running mate, John Edwards, to making America safe, combating world terrorism, restoring the reputation of the United States, and bringing the United States back into the family of nations. In short, John Kerry launched himself and, if elected, his presidency into an urgent confrontation of the greatest moral, ethical and human rights dilemma facing the American President and the American people: The plight of the Palestinian people. If he does not recognize this from the beginning, his presidency and our future will both be in jeopardy.
We have had five Presidents in a row confront the problem of world terrorism and leave it unsolved for his successor. Carter launched the right moves with the Camp David accords, but the problem of American hostages in Iran stole the momentum of his presidency. Reagan allowed his core team in the White House to get involved in a deal to retrieve hostages in the Middle East while promoting terrorism in Central America. Bush 1 put the problem on a back burner while he disciplined Saddam Hussein. Clinton attempted to make peace in Palestine with a second Camp David accord that failed to guarantee Palestinian rights. Bush 2 not only has muddied world terrorism waters with an unprovoked attack on Iraq but also has put the United States completely in opposition to any rights for the Palestinian people.
If he becomes the next President, Kerry faces the Palestine problem in the worst condition it has ever been. Why? Bush 2 has erased any pretense of White House interest in the rights of the Palestinian people. Kerry will face a tough road back from that debacle, even if he applies himself from the beginning.
To get beyond this point, John Kerry has to approach forthrightly and connect with that largely unmentioned "third rail of American politics: Relations with Israel. Politicians generally won,t touch it, because Jewish/Zionist media, financial, and voting clout represent formidable obstacles.
Through his actions to date, Kerry has indicated he intends to follow basically the line followed by Bush 2: Go blindly down the path of support for Israel. Undoubtedly being pressed by Israelis and supporters to do so, in a March 2004 meeting with Jewish leaders in New York, Kerry committed himself whole-heartedly to support Israel. In the week before the Democratic Convention, he sent his brother to reaffirm that commitment directly to Israeli leadership.
It may be that realities of the campaign make it impossible to correct this posture before being elected. Not only are the Zionist extremists and their supporters behaving as if they have the American presidency in their pockets, but also Christian conservatives are backing Israeli moves. In a close election, as this one is shaping, those pro-Zionist votes can be decisive. But if he stays on that course, if he refuses to touch that third rail, the Kerry Middle East policy train will never leave the station.
At the same time, Arabs and indeed Muslims worldwide grow increasingly restive under an insensitive, aggressive American official refusal to recognize that anything is wrong in Palestine or amiss in US behavior toward the Islamic peoples. For a small number of Muslims, especially for Osama bin Laden and al Qaida, those persistent policy blind spots are at once terrorism generators and recruitment posters.
There is no way a Kerry administration can avoid coming to grips with this situation. Bush 2 will have left it in an acutely abscessed state. But success on all the core objectives of Kerry,s announced foreign policy will require that he not only address this situation but succeed in fixing it. There simply is no solution to the Middle East problem that does not recognize and respond to fifty years of repression for the Palestinian people.
There is no way that problem can be resolved while catering exclusively to the demands of Zionist extremists. Kerry has no choice, therefore, but to confront the Israeli extremists with an imperative need for real balance in American policy toward Palestine. Phony even-handedness will not serve. Buzz phrases like the "Road Map or "the peace process will not be believed, especially when placed alongside the stark reality of political commitments to the Israeli hardliners.
If Kerry does not recognize this reality and move to correct America,s course in Palestine, then his presidency will join five others that have failed to protect American interests in the Middle East or to honor the rights of more than three million people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But we, the people, will be to blame for this continuing tragedy, if we do not insist that out of fairness and urgent attention to our self interest, Kerry or whoever is the next President wake up and solve this problem.
Solving the problem means confronting the Israeli hardliners with a greater reality than their political clout: Fundamental American interests are threatened by exclusive support for Israel. There are enough radiological, toxic agent and biological substances loose in the world, and enough technology readily available to make weapons from them. The world,s best armies, ours, Israel,s or any others, cannot stop a determined individual or small group from compounding and using such devices. As the frustration, anger, and hopelessness of the Palestinian people mount, their tormenters may well bring upon themselves a holocaust that will take only seconds. America and Israel are threatened by this prospect, and if it happens, we will have brought it upon ourselves.
John Kerry must face this, but ultimate responsibility lies with us. If Kerry becomes President, he works for us, and if we do not tell him what to do on this, the blame is all ours. Throughout this campaign, in the vote this November, and in contacts with our Senators and Representatives, we must make it clear that we want justice and fairness for all the people in the Holy Land.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State. He will welcome comments at



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