With the country in the middle of an essentially unprecedented political crisis, there's a kind of eerie normalcy to the speech on Israel and Palestine that John Kerry delivered Wednesday afternoon. The remarks themselves were unusually harsh, as was the United Nations resolution on Israeli settlements last week that the administration allowed through. But US presidents and secretaries of state have been talking about the issue for literally decades without much changing.
Nothing seems in the offing here, either. The Obama administration is not threatening to cut off financial aid or other forms of assistance to Israel if Benjamin Netanyahu's government doesn't comply with its requests. There are no peace talks underway. The UN isn't considering any actual sanctions on Israel. And, of course, the Obama administration only has three or four weeks left in office, so even if it did have some exciting new policy initiative to announce, there would be no chance of the incoming Trump administration carrying it out.
It's a rhetorical hand grenade, but a policymaking dud. And while I have some thoughts about the substance of the speech, I'm mostly left wondering ... why?
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Why at a time when the country urgently needs effective political opposition to an alarming new regime that is entering office with vast power but little democratic legitimacy did the Obama administration choose to lash out ineffectually in a way that unites his successor's coalition while dividing his own party? What does Obama hope this will accomplish? And why pick a fight he's sure to lose?