Kerry's Palestinian Fallacy

During his confirmation hearings for secretary of state, John Kerry advanced an ambitious plan for Mideast diplomacy that hardly got any ink from most media, yet portends a potentially grand failure for his tenure as America's top diplomat.

Kerry told lawmakers that it was his "prayer" to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table because the regional and even global stakes in achieving a peace settlement couldn't be greater. In other words, solve that conflict and the world will become a better, safer place.

Here is how he put it:

"So much of what we need to aspire to achieve and what we need globally -- all of this is tied to what can and doesn't happen with respect to Israel and Palestine."

To illustrate his point, Kerry mentioned such challenging issues as rising jihadist threats in the Maghreb (North Africa), and sectarian conflicts in South Asia, the Persian Gulf and "elsewhere."

What Kerry embraced in these few sentences is a thoroughly discredited diplomatic rationale that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal could do wonders to mitigate instability, divisions and violent upheavals in the Arab/Muslim world. Somehow, the Syrian civil war would abate, domestic tremors against Hashemite rule in Jordan would disappear, Sunni and Shia regimes would reconcile, tranquility will reign in Egypt, Iranian mullahs will give up their nuclear ambitions, and Islamist renegades in Libya, Algeria, and Mali would put down their weapons. The West could rest easier with a more reliable source of oil.

If only Israel and the Palestinians could end their protracted conflict. It's a favorite regional strategy espoused by Arab regimes to divert attention from real domestic problems that go unattended. It's also a way of pressuring Washington to lean on Israel for more concessions to the Palestinians -- all in the name of ending strife in a vast, unstable Middle East.

Yet, even as there's nothing new about this grand, discredited fallacy, Kerry nevertheless signals that he will use it as his guide and primer as secretary of state. Never mind that successive U.S. administrations and presidents have succumbed to it -- only to discover that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn't rank high on the agenda of Arab leaders. Else why would they renege cavalierly on financial support pledges to the Palestinian Authority and let it go bankrupt?

Kerry seems to be but the latest secretary of state to succumb to the State Department's siren song that, when it comes to U.S. diplomatic strategy, the road to progress and peace throughout the Middle East runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah. It doesn't -- as Kerry is apt to discover if he goes through with this grand fallacy.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers