Quarantine Imposed on Ya'alon Reflects U.S. Frustration With Israel

At a critical juncture, Jerusalem has squandered the benefits of trust between leaders on rash rhetoric, superfluous spats and provocative settlement projects.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

In the wake of his public humiliation by a cranky U.S. Administration, there is good news and bad news for Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. The good news is that many of the American officials who deal with Israel on a regular basis weren’t all that perturbed by Ya'alon’s outbursts against U.S. Secretary of State Kerry or by his disparagements of U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East. They know full well that some of Ya'alon’s statements were not meant for publication and they have grown wearily accustomed to the juvenile tendency of Israeli politicians to periodically bite the hand that feeds them.

The bad news is that these same officials have more significant accounts to settle, which led them to support the diplomatic quarantine imposed on Ya'alon during his recent visit to Washington. They believe that Ya'alon fulfilled a key and negative role in torpedoing Kerry’s peacemaking efforts, which collapsed in April. In the talks over security arrangements that were to accompany Kerry’s framework agreement, the Americans ran into a brick wall, even on issues that their interlocutors had previously shown some flexibility. When they tried to ascertain the reason for the abrupt about-faces, the footsteps invariably led them to the defense minister’s office.

The irritation with Ya'alon, therefore, is more substantive and less personal than the blind rage that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to regularly evoke in the White House. Ya'alon is seen as giving Netanyahu a security cover for his ideological rejectionism, or, in the eyes who haven’t completely given up on the prime minister, as the one who deters Netanyahu from making concessions. Both camps, from the desk interns to the very top, have now reached the conclusion that the balance of responsibility for the failure of Kerry’s efforts and for the weakening of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, before and after Operation Protective Edge, weighs heavily in Netanyahu and Ya'alon’s disfavor.

But while the American punitive measures against Ya'alon made the main headlines in Israel, the U.S. media largely ignored them, just as they paid surprisingly little attention to the brouhaha that erupted after Kerry cited the lack of Israeli-Palestinian peace as a motivator for enlistment in the Islamic State organization. Jewish groups kept relatively quiet as did most U.S. lawmakers, who passed on an opportunity to lash out against the Obama administration and to possibly pick up some Jewish votes in the process. Perhaps the recurring trans-Atlantic spats aren’t really news, much like a married couple that Netanyahu recently spoke about, but one whose neighbors can no longer hear the shouts, curses and broken dishes that burst out daily from their kitchen window. Perhaps even Israel’s most steadfast supporters can no longer comprehend its insistence on getting into such acrimonious altercations with its closest ally.

All of this comes at the start of a fateful period in which several momentous decisions related to Israel are to be made by the same Washington officials who are in no hurry to forget or forgive. It is they who will formulate the administration’s policies on the Palestinian proposal to the United Nations Security Council on a Palestinian state, which Israel seeks to subvert, on Europe’s plans to pressure Israel over settlements, which Jerusalem seeks to avert, and, most existential of all, on the looming November 24 deadline for a nuclear accord with Iran, which Israel seeks to scuttle altogether.

But Jerusalem is approaching these critical benchmarks from a position of weakness and inferiority, with very little sway among top American decision makers and far less ability to influence the media and public opinion than it might have otherwise had. America remains committed to Israel’s security and professional collaboration between the two sides is as warm and deep as ever, but Israel has squandered the added value that can be derived from intimacy and trust among leaders, its ability to intervene and influence decisions at their critical juncture, on a never-ending series of rash rhetoric, superfluous spats, provocative settlement projects and inappropriate and often unseemly politicking in the White House’s back yard.

So before Ya'alon describes the demand supported by most of the world for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank as “irrational," perhaps he and his cabinet colleagues would do well to take a long hard look in the mirror.

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