US Secretary of State John Kerry took umbrage over Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s sour private comments about the motives (“obsessive and messianic”) driving his Middle East peace effort. But the Secretary was not put off his stroke. He insisted he will continue regardless, because the status quo is untenable, he said in Kuwait Wednesday, Jan. 15.
However Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the funeral of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon Monday, Jan. 13 were even more stinging because they were made publicly and in the presence of US Vice President Joe Biden:
“When he found the international reaction to one of the terror attacks against us (Israel) too conciliatory, he (Ariel Sharon) appealed to the international community and said the following: “Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when enlightened democracies in Europe decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a convenient temporary solution. Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense. We will not tolerate it”. End quote.
The prime minister went on to say: “Arik understood that when it came to our existence and our security, we must stand firm. These are principles that we continue to safeguard. The State of Israel will continue to fight terrorism; the State of Israel will continue to strive for peace while preserving its security; and the State of Israel will make every effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
These comments thinly veiled Netanyahu’s opinion of the Obama administration’s conciliatory policy toward Iran and its nuclear program.
Incidents blown up by mutual US-Israeli distrust
The Defense Minister’s comments were leaked the next day, after he had been going around for two weeks grumbling in private conversations with acquaintances, including journalists, that Secretary Kerry was in the grip of “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor” for solving the Middle East dispute. He was also quoted as dismissing the US security plan as “not worth the paper it was written on.”
For this, the Obama administration rebuked him for "offensive and inappropriate remarks” and demanded an apology, which the prime minister forced him to deliver that same night.
In the view of DEBKA Weekly’s sources, this incident was no more than a surface ripple thrown up by the rough waves of mistrust perturbing Israel-US relations over the direction the Obama administration has taken in its ties with Tehran.
Israeli political, military and intelligence circles attach little credence to the information the administration offers the public about the state of the Iranian nuclear program.
And the administration, for its part, does not trust the reports coming out of Jerusalem on Iran’s expanding nuclear capacity, especially in the light of Netanyahu’s intense efforts to sabotage Obama’s pro-Iran policies through the US Congress.
Israel offers the Palestinians Jerusalem outskirts. They still say no
Obama was particularly irked by Senate Bill 1881 which, apart from piling new sanctions on Iran, states: “If Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapons program," the United States "should stand with Israel and provide … diplomatic, military and economic support to the Government of Israel in the defense of its territory, people and existence.”
If passed into law, this piece of legislation would oblige the United States to actively and directly aid an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear program, a step that Obama and his team of White House advisers would infinitely prefer to avoid.
In this atmosphere, Kerry persists in driving the Israelis and Palestinians towards a peace pact by a process seemingly playing out on a remote planet far away from Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas in Gaza.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s sources, Kerry went to Paris Sunday, Jan. 12, for an unavailing attempt to coax a group of Arab foreign ministers into giving Mahmoud Abbas their blessing for his recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
As a sweetener, he offered them a fresh, US-backed Israeli concession for cracking one of the toughest nuts of the dispute: Jerusalem. The US Secretary had talked Netanyahu round into offering to hand over to the Palestinian Authority extensive Arab districts and villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem: Abu Dis, Al-Azarya and Issawiya in the eastern part of the city, and Shuafat and Beit Hanina in the northwest.
These districts are home to about 80 percent of Jerusalem’s quarter million Muslim and Christian residents.
Netanyahu had one stipulation: For sovereignty over these districts, the Palestinians must forego their claim to establish their capital in any part of Jerusalem.
This information was a closely-guarded secret between Kerry and Netanyahu (until it was revealed here), because publicity would certainly cause Netanyahu’s centrist and right-wing coalition ministers to walk out and bring his government down.
Palestinians plan to join 63 international organizations for anti-Israel boycotts
It is worth itemizing the sensitivity of the concessions offered by Netanyahu in Jerusalem:
Issawiya, in particular, is a large and fast-growing Palestinian suburb on the eastern slopes of Mount Scopus, at the edge of the Judean Desert and adjoining Hadassah hospital and the Hebrew University.
The dominant political force there is the radical Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine led by Naif Hawatemeh.
Issawiya’s 25,000 inhabitants are frequent patrons of the neighboring French Hill suburb’s commercial center’s shops and banks.
Handing over Issawiya would give the Palestinians control of the E1 area linking Jerusalem to the West Bank town of Ma’aleh Adummim and contiguity between Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron.
Palestinian rule in Shuafat would extend Palestinian domination to the same stretch of land.
Notwithstanding theses strategic advantages, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, followed by the Arab Foreign Ministers, rejected the offer. They refused to forego the claim to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state.
To turn the heat up on Kerry and Israel, the Palestinians have put together portfolios of materials for applications for membership of 63 international organizations, including the International Court in The Hague.
Special Palestinian teams are assigned to each application. Abbas looks to these memberships for setting up a wide range of international boycotts against Israel.
Kerry is doing what he can to turn the Palestinians away from their campaign, while at the same time using their preparations as a lever for squeezing more concessions from Israel.