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John Kerry and an Act of Desperation

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It is unfortunate that Secretary of State John Kerry put himself in the middle of the superficial, gossip-laden, "he said"/"he said" death spiral of the latest nine-month peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. By now, his "apartheid" remark, warning of the consequences for Israel if the Palestinians don't get their own state, has gone viral and pandemic. He's even apologized publicly, rightly so. But more troubling than his use of a very sensitive term is what it suggests about his disposition.

The bigger point here is that Kerry may be acting out of desperation. He has invested tremendous effort and political capital in getting the Israeli and Palestinian sides to agree on basic terms for security and borders, leading to a Palestinian state. For the duration, that process was dominated by public claims that one party or the other was undermining trust and acting unilaterally. Kerry kept plowing forward, even as Ukraine, Egypt and Syria blazed.

Kerry's commitment to this effort, whether you believe in his ability or not, has been nothing less than admirable. This is part of what makes his comment so regrettable.

Kerry, however, acted out of desperation. Only in a fantasy world would Kerry not know that his use of the word would automatically reach the press, infuriate Israelis and American Jews, and cloud out all other considerations.

Israel is a big boy and can handle whatever anyone throws at it, whether it's Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert each warning of an apartheid future on their own or Kerry himself doing so. But by invoking apartheid, Kerry shows just how far he is willing to go, if not further. What is his fallback, or did he just lash himself to the mast to ride out the storm of the century, known as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The American Jewish Congress has worked to promote joint economic efforts between Jews and Palestinians, regardless of where the peace process happens to be in any given moment. These kinds of projects build trust and lay the foundations for an eventual final status agreement. Resorting to drama and reckless initiative undermines such an outcome.

On a global scale, we should also be worried that a secretary of state who's ready to sacrifice all just for the sake of a chance at progress in one arena will find himself distracted from other, less containable crises in the Middle East and beyond. Specifically, how much will Kerry or the White House be willing to risk -- in ways that expose Israel as well as the United States -- to secure some long-term agreement with Iran?

Desperation is not an isolated trait, and it's one that too often leads right back to despair. We have enough of that as it is.