Ya’alon apologizes for personally offending Kerry, but does not recant

Israel’s Defense Minister Ya’alon was forced to apologize Tuesday night, Jan. 14, for off-the-record remarks he made to reporters, which relegated US Secretary of State John Kerry’s role in the oft-stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talks to “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor.” He was also quoted as dismissing the US security plan as “not worth the paper it was written on.”

After exceptionally harsh rebukes from the State Department and White House, his office stated: “The Defense Minister… apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister.” Israel and the US shared a common goal of advancing peace talks with the Palestinians. “We appreciate Secretary Kerry’s many efforts towards that end.”

Leading up to that apology, the State Department accused Ya’alon of "offensive and inappropriate remarks, especially given all that the US is doing to support Israel's security needs."
The White House added its own reprimand when the minister tried to cool the situation by saying: “Relations between the US and Israel are intimate and hugely significant for us. The US is our greatest friend and most important ally,” adding: “When there are differences, we iron them out inside the room and that also goes for Secretary Kerry.”

But then, after a two-hour interview with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Tuesday night, Ya’alon saw there was no way out of a full and explicit apology. And so he swallowed the affront to his own pride as a military leader long familiar with every inch of his terrain, as the price he must pay for offending the US Secretary.
In the background of Washington’s anger, were the words spoken by Netanyahu himself at the funeral of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon, on Jan. 13.  In the presence of Vice President Joe Biden, the prime minister quoted Sharon’s pledge of 2001 never again to allow Israel and the Jewish people to pay for the West’s errors of appeasing Hitler in 1938 as he set up his Final Solution for the Jewish people.
The Obama administration took the prime minister’s comment as a dig at what Israel sees as its appeasement of Iran and acceptance of its nuclear aspirations.

In this sense, Netanyahu’s criticism was more pointed than Ya’alon’s.

This clash between Washington and Jerusalem strongly reflected how far the Obama administration has downgraded Israel as a strategic asset compared with its new favorite, Iran, whose leaders get away with disrespectful comments about Washington which put Israeli remarks in the shade.

Last September, President Hassan Rouhani publicly snubbed President Obama at the UN General Assembly by refusing an invitation for a rendezvous. Since the nuclear accord was signed last November, Rouhani has publicly crowed over the capitulation of the US President and the West to Iran’s dictates. Only this week, Abbas Araghchi, a mere deputy foreign minister, contradicted the White House – and President Obama – as being wide of the truth in stating that Iran would dismantle the key element of its nuclear program.
White House spokesman Jay Carney waved those words away forgivingly Tuesday by saying: It doesn’t matter what the Iranians say, but what they do.

This rule clearly does not apply to Israel’s leaders, who are not allowed to speak their minds either.

In her rebuke to the Israeli minister, State Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said: "Secretary Kerry and his team, including General John Allen, have been working day and night to try and promote a secure peace for Israel because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future. To question Secretary Kerry's motives and distort his proposal is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally," Psaki said.
Israel’s leaders and general public do not doubt that Secretary Kerry and General Allen are working hard on security questions. The problem is that they also strongly detect their intention to tell Israel what America sees as best for its security and how to handle it in terms of a nuclear Iran and Palestinian demands – with little regard for the picture as seen in Israel.

Ya’alon brought this gap in perception out in the open when he retorted at the same private briefing: "John Kerry – who has come to us determined and is acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and messianic fervor – cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians.”

This gap between Washington and Jerusalem yawns wider than ever.

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