The Kerry-Obama Tag Team Assault on Israel
Part I) Kerry at Munich: “Nice Country You’ve Got There, Bibi … Shame if Something Should Happen to it”
Secretary of State Kerry said at the Munich Security Conference a few weeks ago:
I believe that – and you see for Israel there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that?
So I am not going to sit here and give you a measure of optimism, but I will give you a full measure of commitment. President Obama and I and our Administration are as committed to this as anything we’re engaged in because we think it can be a game-changer for the region. And as Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed said – he’s here somewhere – to a Paris meeting of the Arab League the other day, spontaneously he said, “You know, if peace is made, Israel will do more business with the Gulf states and the Middle East than it does with Europe today.”
This is the difference of 6 percent GDP per year to Israel, not to mention that today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace. Last year, not one Israeli was killed by a Palestinian from the West Bank. This year, unfortunately, there’s been an uptick in some violence. But the fact is the status quo will change if there is failure. So everybody has a stake in trying to find the pathway to success.
This non-judgmental rhetorical question, “Are we all going to be better with all of that?” is hardly a strong rejection of the BDS movement. Kerry’s equivocation brought an indirect rebuke from Prime Minister Netanyahu:
“Attempts to impose a boycott on the State of Israel are immoral and unjust. Moreover, they will not achieve their goal. First, they cause the Palestinians to adhere to their intransigent positions and thus push peace further away. Second, no pressure will cause me to concede the vital interests of the State of Israel, especially the security of Israel’s citizens. For both of these reasons, threats to boycott the State of Israel will not achieve their goal.”
Other ministers, including Yuval Steinitz were more direct in their criticism:
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel would not negotiate with “a gun pointed at its head,” especially when its vital national interests are at stake.
He described Kerry’s remarks “as damaging, unfair and intolerable.”
The State Department pushed back; not really clarifying but attacking Israel.
…In response to question abt peace process he described well known & previously stated facts about stakes for both sides if process fails.
Go back to Kerry’s remarks. Did he state anything about the stakes for the Palestinians?
…#SecKerry’s only reference to a boycott was a description of actions undertaken by others that he has always opposed.
Except last August he warned Israel about its increasing isolation:
Kerry told the fewer than two-dozen representatives of Jewish organizations that he really believes that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas realize that there is a strategic imperative to act now. He noted that Israel faces the threat of diplomatic isolation and a demographic clock.
In November, America’s top diplomat took the highly undiplomatic approach of warning of violence.
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry said. “Does Israel want a third intifada?”
Kerry’s comments last week can’t be viewed in isolation as simply a “description” but rather as a threat: “Nice country you’ve got there, it would be a shame if anything would happen to it.”
Psaki also wrote:
#SecKerry has always expected opposition & difficult moments in process & expects all parties to accurately portray his record & statements.
Over the course of the peace process, Palestinian criticism of Kerry’s peace proposals (as opposed to his offensive remarks) has been endemic. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, none of these criticisms have prompted a State Department response.
Finally, going back to Kerry’s remarks one more time, he said:
The final comment I would say, Mr. Ambassador, is after all of these years, after Wye, after Madrid, after Oslo, after Taba, after Camp David, after everything that has gone on, I doubt there’s anyone sitting here who doesn’t actually know pretty much what a final status agreement actually looks like. The question is: How do you get there? That’s political courage, political strength, and that’s what we have to try to summon in the next days. And I’ll just tell you I am hopeful and we will keep working at it. And we have great partners of good faith to work with, and I’m appreciative for that.
Does Kerry even realize what he’s saying? At Camp David Arafat rejected “pretty much what a final status agreement actually looks like,” and started a terror war against Israel. In 2008, Abbas rejected “pretty much what a final status agreement actually looks like,” and subsequently pursued unilateral declaration of statehood. Effectively, what Kerry’s telling Israel is “forget what the Palestinians have rejected, improve your offer or face isolation.” Effectively, what Kerry is telling the Palestinians is, “you have no incentive to agree. Keep refusing to deal because it is up to Israel to satisfy all of your demands.”
Kerry talks blithely about “political courage, political strength” but doesn’t comprehend those qualities. He simply uses them to mean “people who agree with me.”
In a recent column, Barry Rubin sketched out in greater detail the possible consequences of making a deal guaranteed by Kerry and President Obama:
Is the PA going to cooperate with Hamas or at least radical segments of the PA? Remember during the Second Intifada, from 2000 to 2005, Fatah did cooperate with Hamas.
Moreover, if Fatah were to change its policy, it might get support from countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and so on. Turkey, for example–which is now a conduit for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, and al-Qa’ida obtaining arms–knows that most of its policy with the Arabs will be dependent on its degree of support to the Palestinians, including cooperation if there is a Palestinian state. The fact is that Turkey has pinned its hopes on Turkish influence in the Arab world, and to associate with aggressive support of Palestine would be key to its popularity. What if aid from Turkey and these other countries prepares Palestine to fight?
What is the United States, an ally with Israel, going to do if Palestine is created by its own agreement but wages a war of terrorism against Israel?
What if, contrary to what Kerry asserts doing something is worse than doing nothing? If that’s the case “political courage,” would mean standing up to Kerry’s intimidation.
A lot of people have already explicated President Obama’s not so veiled threat to Israel in his interview last week with Jeffrey Goldberg. Contrary to what Mark Landler “reported” for the New York Times, there’s no “good cop” (Kerry) “bad cop” (Obama) routine, but rather a tag team with each claiming to know what’s better for Israel than Israel’s elected leader.
There is one specific critique that I’d like to offer and one general one.
Obama asserted to Goldberg, “…the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like. ”
Let’s assume this is true. Does the President even understand the implications of what he’s saying?Isn’t Obama saying that Abbas is an island of moderation in a sea of extremism? Implicitly, he’s arguing that it’s a bad idea to make a deal because there’s no guarantee that any successor will be committed to peace. (The late Barry Rubin sorted out the likely successors a few years ago.) While Abbas refused to make a deal with Ehud Olmert in 2008, he might be the most moderate option available. But that also means that he’s done nothing to build a consensus for peace among the Palestinians. In making a claim that Abbas’s unique moderation makes it imperative for Israel to make a deal with him, President Obama is unintentionally arguing that making peace now would be bad for Israel and is blaming Abbas for his failure to prepare his people for coexistence.
More generally, the problem with both the Kerry and Obama threats is that they are pumping up the BDS movement. Last month, Prof Efraim Inbar observed that the boycott doesn’t have much chance in the United States and while it could gain momentum in Europe; Europe is in decline:
Israeli exports are gradually, albeit too slowly, being redirected to Asian markets. The future is in Asia. The large Chinese and Indian economies are growing fast, as are those known as the “Asian Tigers.” The Asians are business-like and do not carry anti-Semitic historic baggage. Moreover, Israel is generally viewed in Asia as a successful country and a model to be emulated. This is true even in Central Asian states whose populations are largely Muslim.
Last week, David Rosenberg wrote Don’t Buy the Israel Boycott Hype in the Wall Street Journal.
For the Western media, the boycott and all the ideological baggage it carries makes it irresistible. But the hysterical coverage was mostly a function of laziness (almost no one was fact-checking) and ignorance (boycott stories are typically covered by political reporters who know nothing about business, trade or investment). …
The true story is that after nearly 10 years of campaigning, the global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement has not had the slightest economic impact. Its victories have consisted of coaxing a handful of pop stars and academics to cancel appearances in Israel, and winning empty, sanctimonious declarations of support from the likes of student governments, cooperative grocery stories and leftish church groups.
The boycott movement has not managed to gain traction economically or politically. By resting their critique of Israel on the BDS movement, Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama were saying “you know they have a point.” This is especially true given the lack of boycott movement’s success. If they really were working for peace, they’d have ignored Israel’s most vitriolic critics.
Notes: The Part 1 title was my own. Yaakov Kirschen graciously gave me permission to reprint his cartoon with the same theme. The Part 2 title came from Richard Baehr’s Israel Hayom column.