Secretary Kerry’s tenure has been disastrous for Israel. Rex Tillerson’s appointment marks the beginning of a long-overdue fresh approach at the State Department, says Jack Rosen.
“People all over the world are looking to the United States for leadership. We are known as the indispensable nation for good reason. No nation has more opportunity to advance the cause of democracy and no nation is as committed to the cause of human rights as we are.” When the then-Senator John Kerry made this statement in his Inauguration Hearing four years ago, no one could have predicted what that would mean for the Middle-East and the international community.
As we approach Rex Tillerson’s hearing it is important to reflect on Secretary Kerry’s time in office and understand what a Secretary of State can achieve. Kerry’s credentials were second to none, a former presidential candidate, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, well-travelled and well-connected to many heads of state. At the time, commentators believed that there could not have been a worthier choice. For some, Tillerson is the opposite of that model. Questions have been raised considering his business associations, including his dealings with Putin. But it would be wrong to use the Kerry profile to judge Tillerson.
Anyone, myself included, who has been working long enough in international business and with foreign leaders on policy, will have come across people whose ideals they may not agree with but who they dealt with to advance their company or organisation interests. Who you have done business with does not necessarily lessen your support for America, and it would be a mistake to assume that Tillerson’s business relationships disqualify him to be the next Secretary of State.
Kerry looked like the perfect mould for the position, but the decisions he made mean that history will reflect his time very differently. Four years ago, no one present at the Inauguration Hearing would have ever thought to ask Secretary Kerry, ‘would you be happy to sit by and allow hundreds of thousands of people to be slaughtered in Syria?’ or ‘is it acceptable, in your mind, to allow a country who openly declares that it wants to wipe out one of its near neighbours to be a threshold nuclear power while still terrorizing that country through its terror proxies?’ Yet with the Iran Nuclear Deal and his policies regarding the Iranian regime, ISIS and Syria, that is exactly what has happened.
Culminating in his speech last week, Secretary Kerry’s record on Israel has been disastrous. He has targeted Israel in The UN and made the chances of constructive bilateral discussions less likely. Rather than maintaining long standing US policy of vetoing any Resolution that interferes in the conflict, he allowed the further isolation of Israel. He should have been preparing for a smooth transition and a new Administration, a new Administration who made it clear that they would have vetoed the resolution, yet he ignored that. Instead Secretary Kerry chose to allow the UN to classify the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, as “occupied territory”.
Furthermore, when Israel has been the leading democracy in the region for generations, the Secretary of State declared that it cannot be both Jewish and Democratic. The damage he caused in two weeks may take years to repair. This is the position that Rex Tillerson will inherit. His approach to The UN, which he has outlined on social media, will begin to put right the damage that has been done over the last few weeks. We will only be able to judge Tillerson by his actions, as we hope he will stand up and change the policy direction on Israel and the Middle East.