In a posting last night my colleague Doug Bloomfield critiqued correctly Secretary of State John Kerry’s absurd decision not to visit Israel on his forthcoming major swing through key capitals in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian sub-continent. Based on an alleged pretext that Kerry would be travelling with the President to Israel in the middle of March, a stop there now was deemed to be unnecessary. Curiously, one might have argued precisely the opposite, that because the President is arriving in Tel Aviv on March 20, a Kerry visit might actually be perfectly appropriate to give the new Secretary an opportunity to do some very high level prep work for the visit.
While the President’s failure to visit Israel during his swing through the region in 2009 was a foolish oversight and miscalculation by the new White House, this current decision appears to more calculated and disturbing; especially given Kerry’s own long-standing good relationship with Israel and its leaders. It suggests that there may be a resurging Arabist sentiment emerging in the State Department which is prepared to hold Israel at length while it endeavors to develop a viable policy to deal with the continuing turmoil in the region.
There is another more devious card which may be at work here as well. Clearly the lukewarm Obama-Bibi personal relationship does affect much of the atmospherics in the bi-lateral relationship. In addition, the White House political operation—now that the President is not looking to another campaign—is being handled almost exclusive by Valerie Jarrett. Given that many have suggested that Israel and American-Jewish issues were never high on her priority list, Kerry’s marching orders not to visit Israel may well have come from the White House as much as from Foggy Bottom.
There is one additional note about the Kerry non-trip and the Obama visit which puzzles some Israel watchers. The planning of this trip—and even Netanyahu accepting the offer—may turn out to have been a stroke of wishful thinking on Obama (and even Bibi’s) his part. Given the growing issues that appear to be developing as Netanyahu endeavors to cobble together a new Government, the President may end up meeting with a lame-duck Prime Minister facing a new round of elections or one who is still in the midst of building his coalition. This was clearly a calculation that certainly the Israelis and American foreign service staff were well aware could be the scenario in Israel; even two months have the Israeli elections.