Between U.S and Israel, It's All in the (Dysfunctional) Family

I heard John Kerry at the Saban Forum last week. He wasn’t putting on an act. He was really heartbroken and concerned about the peace process.

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Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Saban Forum in Washington D.C., December 5, 2015.
Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Saban Forum in Washington D.C., December 5, 2015.Credit: Courtesy of Saban Forum
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

We were several journalists around one of the tables at the Saban Forum in Washington about a week ago. We listened to the words of the defense minister. We began a whispered conversation: Does he know that he’s speaking on the record? I don’t think so, he wouldn’t speak like that in public. Maybe we should text Ofer, his spokesman? Are you crazy? Look what a headline he’s giving us.

When Moshe Ya’alon finished we were sure that the earth would tremble. At a sensitive time politically, when the Republicans are once again attacking United States President Barack Obama about his difficulty understanding what kind of world he is living in, the Israeli defense minister comes and talks about the absence of American leadership in the battle against Islamic State. It can’t be that he wants that to be publicized. We were mistaken. It made some kind of half-headline, and that’s it.

A defense minister of a country that at this very moment is begging for a little more money from the U.S. comes and levels criticism against the president of the U.S. on his home court, a few days after ISIS supporters carried out a terror attack in California. That’s natural. It’s not a story. In the distorted friendship between the great power and its embittered client in the Middle East, it’s been like that for quite a while.

Dennis Ross, the eternal mediator, wrote candidly in his memoir “The Missing Peace” about the convening of the peace team that he headed in advance of formulating the American mediation proposal between Israel and the Palestinians. All the members of the team, wrote Ross, thought that there was a need to submit a territorial proposal to the effect that in the end the Palestinians would receive an area equal to the size of the area captured from them in 1967.

Absolutely. Everyone thought so, but the proposal that was presented was different, and granted Israel another 3 percent of the area of the West Bank. A bonus. A fringe benefit. I once asked Ross why. He replied that the peace team was not run as a democracy and he, as the head, didn’t think that the status of the Palestinians was equal to that of the Egyptians, who got back 100 percent of their territory, or the Syrians, who were offered 100 percent. Besides, President Bill Clinton would never have accepted it, concluded Ross.

There will never be an agreement between us and you, Saeb Erekat once said to me, if the American mediator always checks first of all which proposal is politically acceptable to the Israeli prime minister and then he will advance only the proposals that he approves. He’s right.

Aaron Miller, from the same peace team, once told how the American mediation turned into a unilateral tool. I was there, said Miller, during the transition from President George Bush, Sr. to President Bill Clinton. The trauma of the conflict with Israel and then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir regarding the loan guarantees was so great that the administration swore to itself, in spite of the fact that it had presumably won – never again. Since then U.S. administrations do everything possible not to clash with Israel. The secretary of state comes to Benjamin Netanyahu, hears a resounding “no” from him, and submissive and dejected he goes to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to inform him that he was unable to get anything from Netanyahu.

I heard U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Saban Forum. He wasn’t putting on an act. He really looked heartbroken and concerned. He gave the impression that he really thinks that Israel is rushing toward a dismantling of the PA, an intifada and a binational state. “Remember what I told you,” he said at one moment, looking like a prophet of doom.

A day later, Hillary Clinton, the leading candidate to replace Obama, arrived at the forum. I am willing to bet that she thinks exactly like Kerry, but she sounded at most like Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. The alliance between Israel and the U.S. is often compared to relations within the family. Yalla! Let’s go with that. If that’s the case, then it turns out that this is a father who sees his son galloping toward the wall and instead of rushing to rescue him, he whispers “Hey, be careful.”

The writer is a journalist on Channel 10 News.

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