Is John Kerry good for Israel?
Israeli officials divided over likely nomination of Massachusetts senator as secretary of state
Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has visited Israel several times, but his stance on Israeli policy - particularly that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - is ambivalent.
Considered a friend of Israel, Kerry is also a staunch critic of Israel's settlement policy. In 2009 he embarrassed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he came out against Israeli settlement construction during the latter's visit in Washington.
Netanyahu and Kerry in 2009 (Photo: Reuters)
Israeli officials saw the move as a premeditated ambush meant to embarrass Netanyahu on his first visit to the US after the 2008 elections. Kerry also spearheaded efforts to tighten relations between Washington and Syria's Bashar Assad and has been accused of engaging Hamas in a dialogue.
"He may be a friend of Israel but is not considered the standard bearer for Israel at the Senate," a state official said. "Other senators are more prominent in that respect. His positions on the Palestinian issue are pretty clear and he is fiercely critical of the settlements."
UN Ambassador Susan Rice (Photo: AFP)
Nevertheless, Kerry is seen as more tolerant towards Israel that the initial frontrunner to replace Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who recently withdrew his candidacy.
Rice's patience for Israel has worn thin in the past few years. "Kerry is not in the same situation. He's also not part of Obama's inner circle which is an advantage," the Israeli official said.
"Historically, the State Department is less supportive of Israel and it remains to be seen what Kerry's influence will be."
The biggest question troubling Israeli officials is whether Kerry will seek to make a mark on the Palestinian issue as secretary of state.
"If he wants to leave a mark and influence the peace process, he will increase pressure on Israel," a Foreign Ministry official estimated. "His status allows him freedom of action. He's old enough, rich enough and respected enough. It's now a question of history."