Is America blaming Israel? Not so fast…

Published in Israel Hayom, May 7, 2014.

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A responsible overall assessment of this past year’s negotiating effort would be far more balanced than Martin Indyk’s jaundiced attack on Netanyahu.

An anonymous member of John Kerry’s team slammed Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, blaming Israel for the breakdown of the nine-month-long peace process. Israeli settlement construction, this official said, was “largely to blame” for the failure of Secretary of State Kerry’s valiant effort.

The same official warned that “Palestine will rise” despite Israeli objections, whether through violence or via international organizations, and he wondered aloud whether a new intifada might be necessary for Israel to come to its senses.

This official had only softball criticism of Mahmoud Abbas to offer. In fact, this American diplomat would have us believe that Abbas is a tragic yet heroic figure – not an intransigent Palestinian hardliner.

The unnamed official undoubtedly is Ambassador Martin Indyk, a senior member of Kerry’s negotiating team, and Indyk’s hostility is no surprise. Indyk’s aversion to Prime Minister Netanyahu is well known and documented (in Indyk’s own book on the Oslo years, for example). His withering criticism of Netanyahu was also expressed quite clearly, publicly and loudly before he re-joined the State Department for this latest negotiating effort.

So the bluntness and one-sidedness of Indyk’s remarks are no great shock, especially now that Indyk is likely to resign (and indeed he should). And especially when the remarks are filtered through Yediot Ahronot’s Nahum Barnea – another card-carrying member of the ‘Defame Netanyahu’ cabal.

The relevant question that arises from the Indyk-Barnea bashing of Bibi is this: Do the anonymously-attributed remarks accurately reflect the Secretary of State’s feelings and assessment, or that of US President Obama? After nine months of intense effort and hard work, has Netanyahu truly lost the Washington ‘blame game’? After Israel’s three releases of Palestinian terrorists and thousands of Netanyahu-Kerry negotiating hours, is American dumping on Israel (and whitewashing of Abbas) all that remains?

My assessment is that the answer to these questions is no. Israel hasn’t ended up in the doghouse. The broadside published by Barnea in the name of America mainly reflects a personal Indyk animus towards Netanyahu, not John Kerry’s considered assessment of Netanyahu’s performance. The anonymous interview should be viewed as a parting insult from Indyk, and not more.

A responsible overall assessment of the negotiating effort has yet to be aired by the Americans, but if they were to do so I’m sure it would be far more balanced and forward-looking from all perspectives, including Israel’s.

The fact is that Kerry’s approach has been to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu, not to attack him. (The same is true of Netanyahu’s approach to Kerry). Kerry believes that Netanyahu indeed was forthcoming in the talks, and that there is more progress that can be made. There is no reason to assume that this approach has changed.

So why hasn’t Kerry himself offered an authoritative public accounting of the talks? Probably because it wouldn’t help the negotiations move forward, but rather would retard the political maneuvering room for both Netanyahu and Abbas. Both of these leaders might improve their international standing, but lose their internal political footing, were the full scale of their negotiating positions revealed.

The bottom line is that the accounting given in Nahum Barnea’s column of the agreements reached (and not reached) between the parties over the past nine months is inaccurate and unfair. Its indictment of Israel ought not be taken as received wisdom, and its negative assessment must not be accepted as a reliable account of the American-brokered diplomatic process.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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