It has been apparent for some time that when Secretary of State John Kerry (in his current spot or while in the Senate) gets pumped up about something (e.g. Bashar al-Assad is a reformer, get Turkey into the Middle East “peace process,” develop a special relationship with the Chinese government) it is probably a very bad idea, and when he is adamantly opposed to something (e.g. the Magnitsky human rights legislation, more sanctions on Iran, restoring defense spending), it is in all likelihood essential to do. He is, not unlike Jimmy Carter, the perfect embodiment of rotten judgment.
So when he commences to fawn over the newly named Palestinian Authority prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, you know he’s a bad replacement for Salam Fayyad.
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies concurs. He tells me, “Hamdallah is an obscure academic with no experience in governing. His appointment marks a consolidation of power for Mahmoud Abbas. He is expected to be a ‘yes man’ — the opposite of Salam Fayyad, who openly disagreed with the Palestinian president on core issues, including transparency and institution building.” What is really going on here is the consolidation of corrupt Fatah’s authority. (Fayyad was never a Fatah member, which in large part accounted for his independence and the antipathy he generated.) Schanzer observes, “Unfortunately, Abbas is not only getting a weak prime minister. He is also weakening the institution of the position. This means less checks and balances in the Palestinian political system. Abbas, who is already four years past the end of his legal presidential term, has taken the institution of the presidency back to the future.”
It is noteworthy that the most significant accomplishment regarding the PA in the past few years was the ejection of Yasser Arafat and the division of authority between the president and prime minister. Now, as Schanzer notes, Abbas’s “ironclad grip on Palestinian politics rivals that of Yasser Arafat in his prime.”
Like so many aspects of Middle East policy, we have gone from strength to weakness in the Obama administration. Gone is Fayyad. Gone are any ongoing discussions between the PA and the Israeli government. Gone is the isolation of Hamas. Gone is respect for American influence in the region. Gone is any coherent human rights policy. And gone is a U.S. stabilizing presence in Iraq.
I can think of no other five-year period in which events have uniformly moved in the wrong direction as they have under President Obama. One suspects with that Kerry running the State Department, things will only get worse.