Kerry’s hopes, and ours

“The U.S. believes members of Hezbollah ... backed by Iran, are smuggling advanced guided-missile systems into Lebanon from Syria piece by piece to evade a secretive Israeli air campaign designed to stop them. The moves illustrate how both using the civil war in Syria ..."

The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 3, 2014

The venerable quote from the poem "Ode to the West Wind" by P.B. Shelley, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind," might be modified by recent events in the Middle East. If Spring doth come, what might we expect to come behind?

The current question — what happens after the Arab Spring? — challenges the watching world, and particularly Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently searching for a way to resolve ancient disputes in the Middle East between Israelis and Arabs, particularly Palestinians. That isn't going to be an easy resolution, as former secretaries of State discovered when they tried to mediate historic claims between these hostile parties.

In Haaretz reporter Ari Shavit's recent book, My Promised Land, he describes why our chief ally in the world, Israel, is a state in chaos: "a Jewish state in an Arab world, and a western state in an Islamic world, and a democratic state in a region of tyranny." Whatever disagreements one may have with Israel's policies, it cannot be denied that if Israel was left in peace, unthreatened by its hostile neighbors, things would be much better for all the players in the Middle East.

But after the initial thrill westerners had watching the Arab Spring happen, there is little to celebrate in that part of the world in any of those countries. The question is what and who challenged or replaced prevailing dictators who disappeared and thus worsened the status quo.

Kerry is focused now on the Israeli-Palestinian agreement that has been in the works for decades. But without dealing at the same time with the dangers Iran poses, and the aftermath of the civil war in Syria, and the displacement of others than the Palestinians, and the militancy and provocations of those extremist groups that seem to be the alternative to the dictators replaced by the Arab Spring, more winters of discontent — to borrow another literary reference — is all we can expect.

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