Ya’alon and Netanyahu at a recent event commemorating the Yom Kippur War.
Moshe Ya’alon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Emil Salman
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Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon thinks that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is “obsessive and messianic.” Ya’alon is of the opinion that the security plan formulated by the Americans as part of the framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is “not worth the paper it is written on.” He thinks “the only thing that can save us is if John Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.”

Above and beyond the clear damage Ya’alon caused with his statements to the relations between the two countries, his comments also reveal an extreme position being held by a senior, significant official in the Israeli government concerning the peace process. The contemptuous, vehement rhetoric from Ya’alon, in which he rejects every attempt to help Israelis and Palestinians reach a framework agreement to enable a future peace agreement, raises the possibility that he is actually expressing the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The apology that Ya’alon composed with Netanyahu and the lukewarm announcement from the prime minister, in which he said disagreements with the United States are always substantive and not personal, are not very convincing. To some extent they even deepened the suspicion about the true motivations of the present government. It is clear that Ya’alon’s apology was forced on him, and it certainly does not express remorse over the content of the remarks, only regret for the diplomatic damage they did.

Netanyahu’s statement also lacks any value. Differences of opinion between Israel and the United States may be substantive, but Kerry is the representative of the “substance” at hand: He is the one acting tirelessly to realize the framework agreement; he is the one who asked Gen. John Allen to present the security plan that would make it easier for Israel to go forward with the process, and he is the one who has already visited Israel 10 times in the year he has headed the State Department.

Therefore, when Ya’alon presents Kerry as “obsessive and messianic,” he is presenting the goal of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians as obsessive and messianic.

The need to mollify Israel’s most faithful ally is secondary to the main question: What does Netanyahu want? Ya’alon’s remarks require the prime minister to clarify to the people of Israel, the Palestinians and the Americans whether he intends to seriously try and end the conflict, or whether he stands behind the content of what his defense minister said - because if the latter is the case, there is no purpose to negotiating at all.