WASHINGTON - Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who was nominated by US President Barack Obama on Friday serve as his next secretary of state, is very familiar with the Middle East and the current Israeli leadership.
Like outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kerry supports Israel and understands its needs, but is a staunch opposer of the settlement enterprise.
Kerry, 69, who was the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 2004 but lost to George W. Bush in a tight race, has been a senator for 27 years and is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry is a graduate of Yale University and fought in the Vietnam War. For that service, he was awarded combat medals that include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.
Clinton, who is still recuperating from a concussion she sustained after fainting in her home in Washington, did not attend the announcement on Kerry's nomination at the White House. During her fours years as the US' top diplomat, Clinton managed to conceal her differences with Obama over the approach to the Middle East peace process. The president chose to ignore Clinton's recommendation when he publicly reproached Israel over its settlement construction.
Obama would send Clinton to reprimand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but she believed her presence in the region was a waste of time and let George Mitchell lead Washington's efforts to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. However, Mitchell resigned as the US' Middle East peace envoy after two years because he failed to make any headway in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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Clinton visited Israel only a few times during her tenure as secretary of state. Her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, visited the Jewish state no less than 25 times at a time when then-Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were holding direct negotiations.
Kerry with Tzipi Livni (R) in Sderot (Archive photo: AFP)
Jewish groups expressed their satisfaction with Kerry's expected appointment as secretary of state. The National Jewish Democratic Council issued a statement saying it was 'ecstatic' over Obama's choice.
"Senator Kerry is a true statesman, and his record on the foreign policy issues of special interest to the Jewish community is exceptionally strong. He has been a leader when it comes to Israel and has made it abundantly clear that he - like the Obama Administration—stands squarely behind the Jewish state. On Iran, Senator Kerry has been a prominent voice of support for the Obama Administration’s leadership, and his commitment and knowledge on the subject are beyond question," the Council said.
'Outstanding ally.' Kerry and Netanyahu (Archive photo: AFP)
"Senator Kerry has been an outstanding ally to the Jewish community and we fully support his nomination. We urge the Senate to confirm him as the next secretary of state without delay."
The Anti-Defamation League also welcomed Kerry's nomination, calling him "a champion for civil and human rights" and an "effective advocate for Israel's security in a dangerous region."
Over the past few years Kerry has sponsored or co-sponsored several bills related to Israel. These bills include affirming Israel's right to exist and defend itself, committing the Senate to a lasting peace in the Middle East while condemning violence and terrorism and opposing the unilateral Palestinian bid in the UN. During Operation Pillar of Defense he supported a Senate resolution supporting Israel's right to self defense.
Kerry during Vietnam War with Ted Kennedy (Archive photo: AP)
Meanwhile, the White House is refusing to address reports that Chuck Hagel is Obama's preferred candidate to succeed Leon Panetta as defense secretary. The Washington Post published an editorial this week saying Hagel would not be the right choice.
"Hagel's stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term - and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him," the article read.
"Hagel was similarly isolated in his views about Iran during his time in the Senate. He repeatedly voted against sanctions, opposing even those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was orchestrating devastating bomb attacks against US troops in Iraq. Mr. Hagel argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran's behavior. The Obama administration offered diplomacy but has turned to tough sanctions as the only way to compel Iran to negotiate seriously," according to the editorial.
"Mr. Obama has said that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that containment is not an option. Mr. Hagel has taken a different view, writing in a 2008 book that 'the genie of nuclear weapons is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does.' The former senator from Nebraska signed on to an op-ed in The Post this September that endorsed 'keeping all options on the table' for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But Mr. Hagel has elsewhere expressed strong skepticism about the use of force. We share that skepticism - but we also understand that, during the next year or two, Mr. Obama may be forced to contemplate military action if Iran refuses to negotiate or halt its uranium-enrichment program. He will need a defense secretary ready to support and effectively implement such a decision."