Yesterday, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported some private remarks of Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon expressing dismay at Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts on behalf of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. Kerry, said Ya’alon, “who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor, cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians.”
The State Department took umbrage, calling the remarks “offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs.” Whereupon Ya’alon issued a quasi-apology (“The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended”), as did his boss, Binyamin Netanyahu.
But in fact, Kerry does seem to be obsessed with his pursuit of the great white whale of international diplomacy, and this week he joined forces with the fellow Catholic whose job description is to serve as the messiah’s vicar. In his speech to the Vatican diplomatic corps Sunday, Pope Francis said:
What is needed is courage “to go beyond the surface of the conflict” and to consider others in their deepest dignity, so that unity will prevail over conflict and it will be “possible to build communion amid disagreement.” In this regard, the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians is a positive sign, and I express my hope that both parties will resolve, with the support of the international community, to take courageous decisions aimed at finding a just and lasting solution to a conflict which urgently needs to end. I myself intend to make a pilgrimage of peace to the Holy Land in the course of this year.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Kerry showed in Rome yesterday to meet with Vatican secretary of state Pietro Parolin. Describing the meeting to the press, Kerry reported:
In addition, the Secretary — Archbishop Parolin — asked me for a solid briefing with respect to the Middle East peace process. Pope Francis will be going to Israel and the Palestinian territories and to Jordan in May, and so we agreed, after I gave a briefing, that we would stay in touch in order to keep him abreast of what we’re doing and then what progress there may be in the peace process.
No one has more spiritual street cred these days than Papa Francesco, and what now shimmers ahead is four months of negotiations culminating in an agreement to be blessed in the Holy Land by His Holiness. This may be no more than a desert mirage, but Ya’alon and other hard-line Israelis are clearly not liking what they’re seeing.