Senator John Kerry will likely have an easy time having his nomination as Secretary of State confirmed, but the easy ride will end there.
He is one of the most qualified people for the job and President Barack Obama said: “Few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers or grasp our policies as firmly as John Kerry.”
Kerry inherits a full plate of serious issues from outgoing secretary Hillary Clinton, not the least of which is a rapidly changing Middle East that is confounding world leaders almost as much as the citizens of the countries that are convulsing with violent change.
Topping the list of challenges Kerry will have to deal with immediately are the civil war in Syria, civil unrest in Egypt and the intransigent Iranian leadership that is becoming more militant while refusing to comply with the international community in Tehran’s apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Kerry has visited Israel twice this year alone and will have to deal with the conundrum of the perennially-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He recently said Israel’s announcement to build housing in disputed areas “undermines a two-state solution.” However, three years ago Kerry criticized the Obama administration for insisting on a settlement freeze from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"I was opposed to the prolonged effort on the settlements in a public way because I never thought it would work and, in fact, we have wasted a year and a half on something that for a number of reasons was not achievable," Kerry said in 2009.
At the time Kerry was prescient, as Netanyahu did freeze settlement construction later that year, but Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas refused to return to the negotiating table until the end of the freeze period and then walked away again.
The chances of peace talks resuming soon were apparently torpedoed by the recent warming of relations between Abbas and the Iran-sponsored Hamas that seized power in Gaza six years ago from Abbas’ Fatah party, which rules the West Bank.
The PA allowed Hamas to hold rallies in the West Bank after a prolonged ban on activities by the terrorist organization following the bloody 2007 military coup in Gaza. Hamas leaders openly state they reject the peace process and their goal is the military overthrow of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state.
Abbas has refused repeated calls by Israel to return to the negotiating table and instead bypassed the peace talks to get non-state member status at the U.N. Coupled with warming relations with Hamas, Kerry will have his hands full trying to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table where the past three Israeli prime ministers have said they are prepared to sit without preconditions and are ready to make “painful compromises.”