James Baker Slams Netanyahu's 'Diplomatic Missteps'

Former U.S. secretary of state decries 'toxic' U.S.-Israel relations, warning that issues are now harder to alleviate due to their personal nature.

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James Baker.
James Baker. Credit: Getty Images

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker harshly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the J Street conference in Washington on Monday, echoing White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough's comments earlier in the day.

Baker acknowledged his disappointment with "the lack of progress regarding a lasting peace," saying that the chances for a two-state solution diminished since Netanyahu's reelection last week.

Baker further slammed Netanyahu's "diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship," saying that the prime minister's "actions have not matched his rhetoric," according to Politico.

Earlier in the day, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough offered a similar rebuke of Netanyahu – specifically the prime minister's claims that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch.

“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made,” McDonough told the conference.

Baker continued by claiming that hardliners on both sides are the biggest impediment to peace.

“Although Netanyahu and his right-and-center coalition may oppose a two-state solution, a land-for-peace approach has long been supported by a substantial portion of the Israeli body politic, by every American [administration] since 1967 — Republican and Democratic alike — and a vast majority of nations around the world,” Baker said.

"As long as Israel occupies Arab lands it risks losing either its democratic or its Jewish character," Baker added.

McDonough similarly warned Israel’s next government not to consider unilateral annexation of any West Bank territory, saying it would “be both wrong and illegal,” and that America would strenuously object.

On the subject of Netanyahu's opposition to the unfolding nuclear agreement with Iran, Baker warned against the pursuit of a perfect deal.

“If the only agreement is one in which there is no enrichment, then there will be no agreement,” he said, noting that there is no military solution. 

Baker, who served as secretary of state under George H.W. Bush, recounted his own clashes with a right-wing Israeli government, then headed by Yitzhak Shamir.

Baker decried how U.S.-Israel relations have become "toxic" over the past few months, warning that issues are now harder to alleviate due to their personal nature. “This is of course a delicate moment in the Middle East, and will require clear thinking from leaders,” Baker said. “That clear thinking should not be muddled by partisan politics.”