by James M. Wall
Despite the lack of any visible signs of success, the U.S. Secretary of State remains determined to resolve what is generally seen in official Washington as an intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine.
In a June 30 editorial, The New York Times saw little prospect for success, despite the fact that “Mr. Kerry keeps doggedly plowing forward.”
Indeed, as the Times reports, the Secretary is giving every impression that he sees progress ahead. He sure acts that way. Note his travel schedule:
“On Thursday [June 27], he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, then drove to Amman to confer with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Friday. He later flew by helicopter back to Jerusalem for another meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, then one with President Shimon Peres of Israel. On Saturday and Sunday, he shuttled between the leaders again.”
This is not Kerry’s first political rodeo. There is nothing quite like rising from his role as an anti-war Vietnam veteran to become a U.S. senator, a U.S. presidential candidate and chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, to teach someone the art of politics.
John Kerry’s first appearance on the American political scene was as a young Navy lieutenant appearing before the same Senate Foreign Relations Committee which he would one day chair. (1971 picture of Kerry testifying above).
It was in that senate committee testimony that a young navy veteran told the senators that he and his fellow veterans against the Vietnam war were “undertaking one last mission” to end a war. The website, Libertyinexile, recalls that testimony:
On April 22,1971, a young Lieutenant named John Kerry came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, being the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress on the subject of ending the war in which he served.
He appeared on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a group of over 20,000 former military servicemen who collectively called for an end to the military operations and atrocities in Vietnam.
Lt. Kerry gave a prepared speech, eloquent and precise, poignant and riveting. He spoke of the crimes of the American soldiers committed in Vietnam, the mystic veil of communism which had justified such killing and destruction, the lies of the American executive which directed these immoral actions, and the convergence of all said injustice to yield the most grave mistake which had just then become realized to the majority of the American public.
After serving his country as a young naval officer in Vietnam, Kerry has been in politics most of his adult life, starting as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1983, and then as a U.S. senator from the same state from 1985 until he was asked by President Obama to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
Kerry comes to this moment in history out of a rich history of service to his country.
The dogged pursuit of an agreement by a man who has seen war suggests that it is a real possibility that John Kerry knows something about the Netanyahu-Abbas talks that the rest of us do not know. In his dogged pursuit for an agreement, he is undertaking another “last mission” to prevent a permanent Middle East war.
How could we? This is a Secretary of State who is operating under the veil of secrecy. The Times editorial offers this explanation for the secrecy:
Whether there is any substantive narrowing of differences between the two sides is unknown. Mr. Kerry’s determination to maintain secrecy is frustrating to anyone following his mission but also tactical, since unveiling details prematurely is more likely to back Israelis and Palestinians into opposite corners.
It could be that Kerry is not just negotiating. It is quite possible that he is pressing Israel to take more than just token steps toward showing the Palestinian leaders that Israel is ready to ease its prison-like grip on a people whose land they illegally occupy.
Nelson Mandela, near death in a South African hospital, leaves behind a text which could serve as a guide for Kerry, a text related, perhaps, to Mandela’s painful experience as a political prisoner in South Africa.
“Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.”
What lies ahead as John Kerry continues his shuttle diplomacy against impossible odds? With very little to go on except a recognition that Kerry is dogged in his determination to keep pushing to bring the two sides together, here is one possible scenario:
As a young man in 1971, John Kerry testified against an absurd war in Vietnam.
Now is Kerry’s moment to convince Netanyahu and Abbas that he is determined to end the permanent conflict between them. He is prepared to end that conflict and then walk with them over the rocky road that would follow a successful end to negotiations.
It would then be up to President Obama to stand with his Secretary of State in what would be a difficult period ahead.
Obama and Kerry will not have the backing of the U.S. Congress in this struggle, but what care Obama and Kerry about a Zionist-Tea Party controlled Congress when the executive branch of government offers Netanyahu and Abbas a way out of their permanent state of conflict.
Is something like this in Kerry’s thinking as he flies back and forth between Washington and Tel Aviv?
Or is it wistful thinking about the impossible?
This much we do know about John Kerry. We have the record. When he closed his formal testimony before the foreign affairs committee in 1971, this is what John Kerry said, recalling his service in the Vietnam war:
We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbarous war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more and so when, in 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning. Thank you.