WASHINGTON — As a young naval officer in Vietnam, John Kerry commanded a Swift boat up the dangerous rivers of the Mekong Delta. But when he returned there last month as secretary of state for the first time since 1969, he spoke not of past firefights but of climate change.

“Decades ago, on these very waters, I was one of many who witnessed the difficult period in our shared history,”

Mr. Kerry told students gathered on the banks of the Cai Nuoc River. He drew a connection from the Mekong Delta’s troubled past to its imperiled future. “This is one of the two or three most potentially impacted areas in the world with respect to the effects of climate change,” he said.

In his first year as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry joined with the Russians to push Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, persuaded the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, and played the closing role in the interim nuclear agreement with Iran.

But while the public’s attention has been on his diplomacy in the Middle East, behind the scenes at the State Department Mr. Kerry has initiated a systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.

His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution.

Whether the secretary of state can have that kind of influence remains an open question, and Mr. Kerry, despite two decades of attention to climate policy, has few concrete accomplishments on the issue. The climate bills he sponsored as a senator failed. At the United Nations climate summit meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, Mr. Kerry, then a senator from Massachusetts, labored behind the scenes to help President Obama broker a treaty that yielded pledges from countries to cut their emissions but failed to produce legally binding commitments.

“He’s had a lot of passion, but I don’t think you can conclude he’s had any success,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who has worked on climate legislation with Mr. Kerry in the past.

Yet climate experts point to one significant, recent accomplishment. As a result of mid-level talks Mr. Kerry set up to pave the way for a 2015 deal, the United States and China agreed in September to jointly phase down production of hydrofluorocarbons, greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air-conditioners.

“He’s pushing to get climate to be the thing that drives the U.S. relationship with China,” said Timothy E. Wirth, a former Democratic senator from Colorado who now works on climate change issues with the United Nations Foundation.

For decades, the world has been skeptical of American efforts to push a climate change treaty, given the lack of action in Congress. But Mr. Obama has given Mr. Kerry’s efforts some help. In September, the Environmental Protection Agency began issuing regulations forcing cuts in carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The rules, which can be enacted without Congress, have effectively frozen construction of new coal-fired plants and could eventually shutter existing ones. Republicans criticize the rules as a “war on coal,” but abroad they are viewed as a sign that the United States is now serious about acting on global warming.

“It has not gone unnoticed that this administration is now much more engaged on climate change,” said Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Every international negotiator understands it.” When Mr. Kerry took office, Mr. Schmidt said, “the dynamic changed quite a bit.”

Shortly after Mr. Kerry was sworn in last February, he issued a directive that all meetings between senior American diplomats and top foreign officials include a discussion of climate change. He put top climate policy specialists on his State Department personal staff. And he is pursuing smaller climate deals in forums like the Group of 20, the countries that make up the world’s largest economies.

“He’s approaching this creatively,” said Heather Zichal, who recently stepped down as Mr. Obama’s top climate adviser and worked for Mr. Kerry from 2002 to 2008. “He’s thinking strategically about using other forums.”

But Mr. Kerry’s ambitious agenda faces enormous obstacles.

Not only must he handle difficult negotiations with China — the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases — for the 2015 treaty, but the pact must be ratified by a Senate that has a long record of rejecting climate change legislation. “In all candor, I don’t care where he is, nothing is going to happen in the Senate for a long time,” Mr. McCain said.

The effort is complicated by the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if approved by the State Department and Mr. Obama, would bring carbon-heavy tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast — and infuriate environmentalists. Approval of the pipeline could blacken Mr. Kerry’s green credentials and hurt his ability to get a broader climate deal.

Mr. Kerry is nonetheless forging ahead. “One of the reasons the president was attracted to Kerry was that we were going to make climate change a legacy issue in the second term,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who won a Nobel Prize for his efforts to fight climate change, praised Mr. Kerry’s longtime focus on global warming. “He has continued to prioritize the issue even in the face of strong political resistance,” Mr. Gore wrote in an email. Mr. Kerry, he said, “has the rare opportunity to advance international negotiations at a critical time.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Kerry worked closely with Mr. Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, on climate change policy on Capitol Hill. In 1992, Mr. Kerry attended the first United Nations climate change summit meeting, in Rio de Janeiro, where he kindled a connection with Teresa Heinz, who attended with a delegation representing the elder President George Bush.

Married three years later, the couple went on to write a 2007 book together, “This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future.” By that time Mr. Kerry had run for president and lost, and then was one of the founders of a think tank, the American Security Project, that defined climate change as a national security threat.

After Mr. Obama was elected president in 2008, Mr. Kerry and his wife began holding salons in their Georgetown home focused on climate policy, with guests like John P. Holdren, the new president’s science adviser. By 2009, Mr. Kerry had joined Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, to push an ambitious climate change bill.

At the Copenhagen climate summit meeting in December 2009, Mr. Obama promised the world that the Senate would soon pass that bill — but a few months later, Mr. Kerry’s legislation fell apart. Since then prospects for global warming legislation on Capitol Hill have been poor.

Now, Mr. Kerry hopes to use his position as secretary of state to achieve a legacy on global warming that has long eluded him.

“There’s a lot of scar tissue from the U.S. saying it will do stuff” on climate change and not following through, said Mr. Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But he said Mr. Kerry’s push abroad and Mr. Obama’s actions at home were changing expectations among other nations.

“They’re still waiting to see what we’re going to do,” Mr. Schmidt said, “but the skepticism is much thinner than it was a few months back.”


Avnery – January 4, 2014 on Kerry’s honest misconceptions that do not allow progress on the Israeli-Palestinian Devide.

Uri Avnery,

January 4, 2014


                Neutral – in whose favor?


A FORMER Israeli army Chief of Staff, a man of limited intelligence, was told that a certain individual was an atheist. “Yes,” he asked, “but a Jewish atheist or a Christian atheist?”

Lenin, in his Swiss exile, once inquired about the party affiliation of a newly elected member of the Duma. “Oh, he is just a fool!” his assistant asserted. Lenin answered impatiently: “A fool in favor of whom?”

 I am tempted to pose a similar question about people touted to be neutral in our conflict: “Neutral in favor of whom?”


THE QUESTION came to my mind when I saw an Israeli documentary about the US intermediaries who have tried over the last 40 years or so to broker peace between the Palestinians and us.

For some reason, most of them were Jews.

I am sure that all of them were loyal American citizens, who would have been sincerely offended by any suggestion that they served a foreign country, such as Israel. They honestly felt themselves to be neutral in our conflict.

Bur were they neutral? Are they? Can they be?

My answer is: No, they couldn’t.

Not because they were dishonest. Not because they consciously served one side. Certainly not. Perish the thought!

But for a much deeper reason. They were brought up on the narrative of one side. From childhood on, they have internalized the history and the terminology of one side (ours). They couldn’t even imagine that the other side has a different narrative, with a different terminology.

This does not prevent them from being neutral. Neutral for one side.

By the way, in this respect there is no great difference between American Jews and other Americans. They have generally been brought up on the same history and ideology, based on the Hebrew Bible.


LET US take the latest example. John Kerry is carrying with him a draft plan for the solution of the conflict.

 It was prepared meticulously by a staff of experts. And what a staff! One hundred and sixty dedicated individuals!

 I won’t ask how many of them are fellow Jews. The very question smacks of anti-Semitism. Jewish Americans are like any other Americans. Loyal to their country. Neutral in our conflict.

 Neutral for whom?

 Well, let’s look at the plan. Among many other provisions, it foresees the stationing of Israeli troops in the Palestinian Jordan valley. A temporary measure. Only for ten years. After that, Israel will decide whether its security needs have been met. If the answer is negative, the troops will remain for as long as necessary – by Israeli judgment.

 For neutral Americans, this sounds quite reasonable. There will be a free and sovereign Palestinian state. The Jordan valley will be part of this state.

If the Palestinians achieve their long-longed-for independence, why should they care about such a bagatelle? If they are not considering military action against Israel, why would they mind?

 Logical if you are an Israeli. Or an American. Not if you are a Palestinian.

 Because for a Palestinian, the Jordan valley constitutes 20% of their putative state, which altogether consists of 22% of the territory they consider their historical homeland. And because they believe, based on experience, that there is very little chance that Israelis will ever willingly withdraw from a piece of land if they can help it. And because the continued military control of the valley would allow the Israelis to cut the State of Palestine off from any contact with the Arab world, indeed from the world at large. 

 And, well, there is such a thing as national pride and sovereignty.

 Imagine Mexican – or even Canadian – troops stationed on 20% of the territory of the USA. Or French troops in control of 20% of Germany. Or Russian troops in 20% of Poland.  Or Serbian troops in Kosovo?

 Impossible, you say. So why do American experts take it for granted that Palestinians are different? That they wouldn’t mind?

 Because they have a certain conception of Israelis and Palestinians.


 THE SAME lack of understanding of the other side is, of course, prevalent in the relations between the two sides themselves.

 On the last day of anno 2013, Israel had to release 26 Palestinian prisoners, who had been held since before the 1993 Oslo Accord. This was part of the preliminary agreement achieved by John Kerry for starting the current negotiations.

 Every time this happens, there is an outcry in Israel and rejoicing in Palestine. Nothing exemplifies the mental gap between the two peoples more clearly than these contrasting reactions.

 For Israelis, these prisoners are vile murderers, despicable terrorists with “blood on their hands”. For Palestinians, they are national heroes, soldiers of the sacred Palestinian cause, who have sacrificed more than 20 years of their young lives for the freedom of their people. 

 For days, all Israeli networks have reported several times a day on demonstrations of bereaved Israeli mothers, clutching in their hands large photos of their sons and daughters, crying out in anguish against the release of their murderers. And immediately after, scenes in Ramallah and Nablus of the mothers of the prisoners, clutching the portraits of their loved ones, dancing and singing in anticipation of their arrival.

 Many Israelis were cringing at this sight. But the editors and anchormen would be astonished if they were told that they were inciting the people against the prisoner release, and – indirectly – against the peace negotiations. Why? How? Just honest reporting!

 This revulsion at the other side’s rejoicing seems to be an ancient reaction. The Bible tells us that after King Saul was killed in the war against the Philistines, King David lamented: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon (both Philistine towns) ; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.” (II Samuel. 1:20)

 Binyamin Netanyahu went further. He made a speech denouncing the Palestinian leadership. How could they organize these demonstrations of joy? What does that say about the sincerity of Mahmoud Abbas? How could they rejoice at the sight of these abominable murderers, who had slaughtered innocent Jews? Doesn’t this prove that they are not serious about seeking peace, that they are all unreformed terrorists at heart, out for Jewish blood? So we cannot give up any security measures for a long, long time.

 The prisoners themselves, when interviewed by Israeli TV immediately after their release, argued in excellent Hebrew (learned in prison) that the main thing was to achieve peace. When asked, one of them said: “Is there a single Israeli, from Netanyahu down, who hasn’t killed Arabs?”


 THIS GAP of perceptions is, to my mind, the largest obstacle to peace.

 This week Netanyahu gave us another beautiful example. He spoke about the continued incitement against Israel in Palestinian schoolbooks. This item of right-wing Israeli propaganda pops up every time the other tired arguments are let out to grass.

 How can there be peace, Netanyahu exclaimed, if Palestinian children learn in their classes that Haifa and Nazareth are part of Palestine? This means that they are educated to destroy Israel!

 This is so impertinent, that one can only gasp. I don’t think that there exists a single Hebrew schoolbook that does not mention the fact that Jericho and Hebron are part of Eretz Israel. To change this one would have to abolish the Bible.

 Haifa and Hebron, Jericho and Nazareth are all part of the same country, called Palestine in Arabic and Eretz Israel in Hebrew. They are all deeply rooted in the consciousness of both peoples. A compromise between them does not mean that they give up their historical memories, but that they agree to partition the country into two political entities.

 Netanyahu and his ilk cannot imagine this, and therefore they are unable to make peace. On the Palestinian side there are certainly many people who also find this impossible, or too painful.

 I wonder if Irish schoolbooks have obliterated 400 years of English domination or abomination. I doubt it. I also wonder how English schoolbooks treat this chapter of their history.

 In any case, if an independent (neutral?) commission of experts were to examine all the schoolbooks in Israel and Palestine, they would find very little difference between them. Of Israel’s four main school systems (national, national-religious, western-orthodox and eastern-orthodox), at least the three religious ones are so nationalist-racist that a Palestinian competitor would be hard-pressed to trump them. None of them says anything about the existence of a Palestinian people, not to mention any rights on the country they may possess. God forbid (literally)!


 TO BE more than a mere fragile armistice, peace needs reconciliation. See: Mandela.

 Reconciliation is impossible if either side is totally oblivious to the narrative of the other, their history, beliefs, perceptions, myths.

 John Kerry does not need 160 or 1600 experts, neutral or otherwise. He needs one good psychologist. Or maybe two.

 One can easily understand the feelings of a mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian militant. If one tries, one can also understand the feelings of a mother whose son was ordered by his leaders to attack Israelis and who returns from prison after 30 years.

 Only if the American intermediaries, neutral or otherwise, understand both can they contribute to furthering peace.


The State of Two States

Week of December 29, 2013

from: Israel Policy Forum (IPF) hpolak@ipforum.org

Photo of the week: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport Jan. 2, 2014. (Photo by Reuters)

Just after ringing in the new year, US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Israel on Thursday for meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu with the intention to discuss a potential framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Prior to Kerry’s arrival, Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners in the third phase of the prisoner release, a precondition for ongoing peace talks. It was also announced this week that British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will make separate official visits to Israel next month in a show of support for the continuation of negotiations.

“There is no connection between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Tunisia. Its resolution is not the solution for stabilizing the Middle East… If the alternatives [of not reaching an agreement] are a European boycott or rockets out of Nablus and Ramallah on Ben-Gurion Airport, I’d prefer a European boycott.” – Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, speaking at the Calcalist conference (Tuesday, 12/31/13)

“This needs to be said clearly: the conflict is the Israeli economy’s glass ceiling.” – Justice Minister Tzipi Livni explaining that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has serious implications for the Israeli economy at the Calcalist conference (Tuesday, 12/31/13)

“But Mr. Netanyahu is dead wrong in not understanding that the road to dealing with Tehran goes through Ramallah, and that time is running out not only for halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program but also for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, he fails to comprehend that maintaining the status quo on the Palestinian question poses a major obstacle to progress on the Iranian issue.” – Former Shin Bet Chief Ami Ayalon emphasizing the importance of the negotiations for overall regional stability (Wednesday, 1/1/14)

“I think that it was made unequivocally clear that when there is a prisoner release, the construction in Judea and Samaria will continue.” – Minister for Intelligence, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz referring to the juxtaposition of the prisoner release and the settlement construction announcement in an interview with Yoman (Wednesday, 1/1/14)

“We are sending a clear message to Israel and the Americans: The Jordan Valley belongs to the Palestinians.” – Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah opposing the symbolic Israeli ministerial vote to annex the Jordan Valley in Maariv (Wednesday, 1/1/14)

“There are two vital components for security [in the Jordan Valley]. One is an IDF presence, the second is the presence of settlements.” – Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin supporting a continuous Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley in an interview with Yoman (Thursday, 1/2/14)

“Now, I want to emphasize that the discussion of an agreed framework has emerged from the ideas that both parties have put on the table. My role is not to impose American ideas on either side but to facilitate the parties’ own efforts. An agreed framework would clarify and bridge the gaps between the parties so that they can move towards a final peace treaty that would resolve all of those core issues.” – Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem (Thursday, 1/2/14)

“The potential beauty of this framework is that it would lay the groundwork for the fundamental concessions each side would make without plunging into the details, where many devils lurk…The problem with this is that it still requires bold and courageous decisions from two men who have built their political lives on caution and procrastination…Abbas and Netanyahu have every reason to avoid any genuinely substantive deal, even on a ‘framework.’” – Jackson Diehl examining Secretary Kerry’s framework agreement in the Washington Post (Thursday, 1/2/14)

“’We feel very strongly that the peace process is very important sooner or later, and we support the legitimate peace process,’ McCain said. But he expressed concern about whether some aspects of the agreement are ‘truly enforceable and viable options’ that would not put Israel in jeopardy.” – US Senator John McCain commenting on Secretary Kerry’s proposal for a framework agreement during his visit to Jerusalem (Friday, 1/3/14)