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U.S., Israel break not only on Iran, but on Palestine, too

In the last week, things have changed between the U.S. and Israel. Kerry may have the guts to continue refusing to lie for Israel’s occupation – which is all that’s needed to shake its foundations. This is no tiff.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, June 27, 2013. (State Dept. Photo)

If it hadn’t happened on the same day, last Thursday, that the breakthrough came in the Geneva talks on Iran’s nuclear program, John Kerry’s joint interview on Israeli and Palestinian TV – and the chain reaction it would have set off – would still be dominating the news from the Middle East. Instead, it was a one-day story, overtaken by the chain reaction from the Geneva breakthrough, notably Netanyahu’s furious attempt to block what he calls this “bad deal” with Iran.

If it hadn’t been overshadowed by the Iran story, Kerry’s interview, coming on the heels of a report that the U.S. was going to present an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in January, would have been seen for what it was: a very high-profile signal that the Obama administration has decided to stand up to Netanyahu, to tell him publicly what it thinks of his policy and to make clear that until he changes direction, the United States views him, not Mahmoud Abbas, as the main obstacle to peace.

I don’t know of a precedent for a U.S. secretary of state, or a president, publicly attacking Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians like Kerry did – and in front of not only the Israeli public, but the Palestinian public as well. Just look at what he said:

I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?

And this:

There will be an increasing isolation of Israel [and an] increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel.

And this:

How, if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace, and a Palestine that is a whole Palestine that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say we’re planning to build in a place that will eventually be Palestine? So it sends a message that perhaps you’re not really serious.

And this:

I know there are people who have grown used to [the status quo], And particularly in Israel. Israel says, ‘Oh, we feel safe today. We have the wall, we’re not in a day-to-day conflict, we’re doing pretty well economically.’ Well, I’ve got news for you. Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s or next year’s. Because if we don’t resolve this issue, the Arab world, the Palestinians, neighbors, others, are going to begin again to push in a different way.

The reaction from Netanyahu’s circles was brief and bellicose: Israel would not “give in to the intimdation tactics.”

This is not the way Americans and Israelis ordinarily talk to each other in public. This is not a tiff. This is not one of the natural ups and downs in the unshakable relationship bla bla bla. This is a break between the U.S. and Israel on the peace process, caused by the secretary of state’s decision to finally speak Washington’s mind out loud.

It was not a snap decision. Three days before, Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On told Haaretz that she was informed by American, Palestinian and Arab officials that if the peace process remained stalled, the U.S. would in January present “a new diplomatic plan that will include all the core issues and will be based on the 1967 lines, with agreed-on land swaps.” Kerry denied the story, saying it was all “rumors” and “speculation,” but in light of his subsequent TV interview – as well as the extreme unlikelihood that Gal-On made the whole story up – it seems the Americans are indeed planning to intervene with a peace plan of their own. It’s the same peace plan that’s been around forever – and it remains anathema to Netanyahu, not to mention the rest of Likud.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that Kerry forced into being in July, and whose allotted nine months run out in March, are guaranteed to fail; this Israeli government will not end the occupation. But if Kerry follows through on this new, confrontational U.S. approach, he will not let Israel off the hook when it comes time to assign blame for the failure – and that would be an earthquake. It would deliver an unprecedented shock to Netanyahu’s Israel, and supercharge the movement for Palestinian independence.

It’s possible, of course, that Kerry will not follow through, that he will back off Netanyahu like Obama and Hillary Clinton did four years ago, letting the peace talks die and blaming both sides more or less equally, which would just reinforce the status quo. But in the last week, things have changed between the U.S. and Israel. They are at open diplomatic war on two fronts, Iran and Palestine. It’s not going to be easy for them to patch up their differences on these issues because Netanyahu is a radical hawk on both of them, while the Obama administration, in its second and last term, appears to be rediscovering its dovish instincts. It’s legacy time, Kerry’s name is on these Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, there’s no love lost between him (or anybody else in the administration) and Netanyahu, and he just may have the guts to continue refusing to lie for Israel’s occupation – which is all that’s needed to shake its foundations.

What’s happened in the last week between the U.S. and Israel is far from being business as usual. This is a rare, hopeful moment.

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    1. Richard Witty

      On Iran. I don’t know if there is an impasse or just some moderate hurdles in language. Do you?

      France, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Italy, US voiced objections to a renunciation of sanctions without the clear and permanent stopping of the heavy water plant (useful only for nuclear enrichment beyond 5%) and stopping of enrichment of uranium beyond 3.5% (that does not leave Iran a civilian nuclear path).

      While over the top, I distrust Iran. I observe them constructing empire, specifically with an unbroken range of political dominance from Iran proper, through Iraq, through Syria, through Lebanon. A very large area of political dominance.

      Of which the prospect of justified nuclear capability accompanied by functional delivery systems, complementing large conventional arsenals, and under the directed control of proxies (major proxies with very sophisticated and extensive weapons).

      Iran is no longer surrounded. It more surrounds now.

      A big change in ten years. It should be THANKING the US for giving it that open field, for removing Saddam Hussein and then removing US bases in Iraq.

      The Kerry interview was not new. The positions had been articulated for a long time. The impatience was important, calling the bluff as to Netanyahu’s intent. (They’re still talking about preliminaries now with five months to go, four months already gone.)

      Netanyhau has been warned, within Israel and by Americans, NOT to interject into American politics too much.

      Its the quickest way to get the US to say “I’ve had with you” beyond what their rational positions (supportive of Israel’s security) would otherwise be.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      Let us hope this time Kerry (and Obama) stay the course and put Netanyahu in his rightful place – the dung heap from which he climbed.

      I too see things changing for the better as far as peace in the Middle East is concerned. Just a few positive developments that are likely to take place in the next couple of years: Sheldon Adelson is decrepit and may expire in the next few years; Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in all likelihood will not be re-elected next election, and in his place will come a far left breath of fresh air named Justin Trudeau; and perhaps most important – Avigdor Lieberman is back in the foreign ministry and is about to pick up where he left off (which is wonderful news for the pro-BDS crowd).

      All in all, room for optimism!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Well, Larry, you do seem to have a soft spot for Democratic Administrations. I of course agree with the quotes you provide, but at best (a public break over the talks), the Israeli Administration has several years of a secured government, past the departure of Obama and Kerry. And I, for one, am not convinced the Democrats will retain the White House in 16; Bibi will be campaigning in the US–again. Further, I know that in the past the Israeli public has turned on leaders seen as bungling the US relationship, but wonder if all the national right indoctrination has not weakened this tendency.

      Then, if violence does erupt, will the electorate decide their government is to blame?

      Kerry is in my mind a hard money patriarch who really thinks he is covering the best long term interests of Israel (which need not be identical to the best short term interests of the present ruling coalition). Bibi’s decision to go to diplomatic war over an Iran deal (and who knows what has been said in the Israel/Palestinian talks) signals, to Kerry, that Bibi cannot be trusted. B is violating the rules of the game for immediate advantage, in US lens. I guess what you report here is US payback.

      Lieberman will say “I told you negotiations were a bad idea.” The coalition may begin to wonder if he is right. I don’t think an American all or nothing plan will go over well in many parts of Israeli society. I’m starting to wonder if more people are beginning to see Greater Israel in some unarticulated future sense is inevitable.

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      • Greg, all Kerry has to do is repeat what he said on TV when the talks fail, and it’s earthquake time. The Palestinians go to the UN w/the wind at their back, more Stephen Hawkings emerge, Israel finally begins to feel the heat – and things start to change. I’m not talking about overnight, I’m talking about some years. I’m not saying it will happen, but I am saying it could, and Kerry’s i’view, along with the plan Gal-On talked about – which Bibi would never accept, but whose rejection would provoke further opposition at home and abroad – is a big first step, a good sign.

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        • Kolumn9

          One thing your analysis misses is that there is nothing to be gained for this American administration from an open confrontation with Israel. No peace treaty, no legacy, no political advantage, no nothing. The second thing is that this American administration has a proven track record of repeatedly folding when facing determined opposition.

          The Palestinians already went to the UN. Bibi already had an open conflict with the American administration and won an election (and is currently in the middle of another one). Stephen Hawking already happened. Don’t confuse tremors for earthquakes and waves for tsunamis.

          The real earthquake or tsunami will happen as a result of the tech and housing bubbles popping.

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      • Larry, while the US may predict coming violence it is unlikely to stoke violence. So I suspect some statement more along the lines of “the will just wasn’t there” or “they’re not ready yet.” The Administration won’t be backing down, just saying, privately, “you reap what you plant.” The Statehood bid would likely continue, but, within the WB, this bid may be seen as trying to paper on some kind of false efficacy after once again being the good boy and having one’s teeth kicked in. So I fear violence, as I suspect the Administration would, so no repeat of Kerry’s statements, rather a shrug and on to the next crisis.

        And, again, a direct confrontation over failure, coupled with WB violence, plays directly into the hands of the Republicans in 16; many Americans see Israel as a frontier against the heathen. The Democratic nominee will not like such parting waste from Obama.

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    4. XYZ

      Derfer, I am surprised that as a journalist, you don’t seem to understand what people think. The Israeli people are not going to quake in their boots if Obama gets mad at us. Most Israelis know there won’t be a peace agreement because the Palestinians don’t want one, after rejecting 2 offers in recent years. Most people in the world, including Americans, Europeans and even Arabs couldn’t care less about the Palestinians and the Arab-Israeli conflict, so reprimands and threats from people like Kerry and Obama don’t carry much weight. Regarding the threat of an “imposed settlement”, well, Eisenhower was unable to impose one in 1957, and the unilateral withdrawal he imposed on Israel collapsed within a decade, and he was a much more powerful and popular President than Obama is and the US was the colossus of the world at the time, unlike the sick, declining country that it is now. Israel is also a much stronger country today than it was then as well, with a population something like 6 times bigger and a much more vibrant economy.
      In addition, you, like most ‘progressives’ ignore the turmoil and fratricidal slaughter the Arabs are carrying out against one another, their beloved brothers, and think the Palsetinian issue can be separated from it. Well, even Abbas and others know that if an independent Palestinian state were to be created it would face a civil war as well, due to the tremendous cleavages present in Palestinian society (HAMAS vs FATAH, refugees vs settled population, clan rivalries, Hevron against the North, etc, etc).
      So dream on if you think the US can do anything to change the situation here.

      Reply to Comment
      • richard witty


        you are wrong about the extent that israel needs us support.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Israel needs US support to thrive. And yet, when it comes to fundamental strategic options what the US wants is and should be a secondary consideration.

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        • The Trespasser

          USA is not the only world’s superpower these days.

          Reply to Comment
        • mike panzone

          israel should ditch the US and adopt china as its champion, perhaps?

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            The US is ditching Israel and the Middle East in general. It is rational to seek a different patron.

            Any of the UNSC permanent members would do.

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      • The Administration can slow down, temporarily halt, approved aid and credits, as Clinton did to Bibi I. In the best stary eyed liberal fantasy, it would withdraw its UN veto. I can see the US doing this latter if violence erupts and Israel is seen as oppressive; I can even see a Republican Administration doing this, albeit at higher threshold. But I believe even then aid to Israel would continue in large measure. Opposition to measures like the now whimped out EU grant guidelines, however, could well cease: let others do the pressuring. And equating disapproval of Israel with anti-Semitism will become more difficult. More people will become tired of the all importance of Israel.

        The Administration is not “imposing” a settlement; it is apparently saying “we are tired of your bluff so consider this.” Kerry has been very upfront about Administration views of declining “peace” possibilities. I think the most likely result of collapse is the US stepping back from its present total support, but doing nothing to pressure a right nationalist government to change, unless events on the ground jeopardize that government internally.

        Israel must change from within. Right nationalists, religious or not, see this as a logical impossibility as far as I can tell. But then why the Boycott law?

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        • XYZ

          As I have stated, most people in the world couldn’t care less about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the settlements, the Palestinians, etc. There is no public pressure in the EU for sanctions against Israel, the pressure comes from special interest groups like the radical Left, antisemites, the Muslim community, etc, but these are far from a majority in the EU. People want to do business, period. Anyway, how can they put sanctions on Israel when countries with much worse situations like China and soon to be Iran have people falling all over themselves to do business with them? Simple hypocrisy and it won’t stand.

          Reply to Comment
          • richard witty


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          • Richard Witty

            The US vetoed the petition for full Palestinian statehood in the UN.

            If the US had abstained (after the Netanyahu public insults of Obama at the time, I would be surprised if they didn’t consider it), then the Palestinian Authority would have had a path to initiate International Criminal Court proceedings against Israel and Israeli officials.

            Israel would be facing the situation of asking the US or Great Britain or France or Russia to violate UN extradition rights if indicted Israeli officials sought to meet at the UN in New York, or was invited to speak in Congress.

            Sanctions with teeth would be a possibility.

            You are in the ozone, assuming that Israel can go it alone. Those days are long past.

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          • Kolumn9

            These are empty threats. For a more grounded approach please proceed to read the glorious history of the ICC and its achievements thus far. I think it is unlikely that the ICC would hear the Palestinian case even were it to be a member state of the UN.

            Also, you have no idea what you are talking about. Russia and the US are not state parties to the ICC. Israel wouldn’t have to ask them to do anything. Also, the ICC appears on the verge of falling apart as African states start to withdraw themselves from the convention.

            The Palestinian Authority should feel free to exhaust the ICC route. Were they to pursue this route it would achieve nothing for them, but it might bring them back down to earth. The reason why the US blocked the Palestinians at the UNSC was because it would mean the end of the American-sponsored peace process which is more useful as a process to the Americans than to either of the parties.

            You seem to believe that were the Americans to stop forcefully supporting Israel it would collapse. That’s silly. Only American Jews and Israeli politicians that want to appeal to them (and through them to the American politicians) hold this position. It makes them feel self-important about the role that they play, but it’s mostly vanity, not reality. You have no idea what is happening here.

            Reply to Comment
          • Richard Witty

            Israel wouldn’t collapse. It is strong. But, it wouldn’t be able to expand into the West Bank, and it would have to end its blockade of Gaza.

            It would have to greatly temper its portfolio of means of war, and particularly eliminate extra-legal intelligence activities.

            It would have to forego aid from the US and to a much lesser extent from Western Europe.

            And, if there is any Mediterranean sanctions or boycott, it would harm its economy, and then be subject to more internal objection (overdue).

            The US is important to Israel. It is foolish to think otherwise. In contrast, Israel is important only to a minority of Americans directly, a large number of republicans via odd religious constructions, but most are indifferent to Israel, to Palestinians, to any far away.

            Israel does have to find an intersection of interests, not go it alone.

            Alone, with the political forces at play, it would alienate all but fringe powers.

            There is little economically that Israel produces that is not duplicable. Even medical tech.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Nothing in the Israeli-US relationship really contributes to Israel’s ability to maintain a blockade of Gaza or to continue building settlements in the West Bank. These are a basic outcome of Israel being stronger than the Palestinian entities. The blockade of Gaza might be abandoned eventually but there is basically zero chance that Israel is abandoning a security role in the West Bank.

            There is no such thing as an ‘extra-legal intelligence activity’. In intelligence against foreign states everything is illegal and legal at the same time. These are the basic rules of the game… If you get caught it was ‘illegal’. If you don’t then it is ‘legal’.

            The Israeli economy would take a hit from the loss of American active support. Some boycotts are possible though I question the extent that any of the major trade blocks are willing to go in this direction, including the EU. So, yes, the relationship with the US is important to Israel, but no, it is not strictly vital. In any case, the argument of how important the US is to Israel is no longer relevant, because Obama’s America is not the America of Reagan, Clinton or the Bushes.

            It is time to get over the dying paradigm that Israeli actions should be designed to mollify the American masters of the Middle East. The Americans are pulling out. Their influence over the region is now minimal and it appears they intend to abandon any influence they retain.

            The rest of the world order is in no better shape. We are facing global anarchy where institutions like the UN and the ICC become less and less relevant. This blade cuts both ways. Israel needs to get used to a multipolar regional order and seek new patrons, but the Palestinians need to get used to the futility of calling for international intervention. No global order is coming. No global justice. No global anything. It’s a jungle out there. Want proof? Look at Syria.

            Reply to Comment
          • Peter Hindrup

            ‘Even medical equipment’!
            Funny! The first factory destroyed by Israel in 2006 destruction of Lebanon was a medical equipment manufacturing plant that not only undercut Israel prices but had a far better product.
            (look for the documentary ‘Lebanon Burning’, producer Peter Manning, late of The ABC (Australia).
            Without US backing Israel is, or becomes a basket case.
            their nukes work only as long as people bow to the threat. Use one and Israel, disappears, and there is unlikely to be any place on earth where it is safe for Jews to be.
            Were I Jewish I would be working to get a real and understood disconnect between Jew and Israeli!

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            And which country do you think will be the first to line up to get its capital and all major cities nuked?

            Reply to Comment
    5. Larry Snider

      Larry, although it is clear that Obama/Kerry/Indyk are frustrated with Israel’s position and I wouldn’t be surprised if they show up in Jerusalem in January with the Bridging Proposal, I don’t believe Obama will ultimately leave Israel in the lurch because he’d be undone by about 400 congressmen and his legacy would be further tarnished. He has to push now and find/create enough common ground to pull a rabbit out of his hat and get an interim agreement on borders with Israel having a temporary role as part of the NATO forces deployed along the Jordan Rift Valley.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Steve Benassi

      Obama UNSC ’67 borders coming in 2014.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9


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    7. XYZ

      Here is an article from the Washington Post saying how, for the first time since Obama became President, he is viewed as untrustworthy by a majority of the American people.


      Now, while it is true he is a second-term President free of the worry of getting re-elected, so he might feel he can do what he wants to Israel in attempting to impose a hostile policy, he won’t have the political backing. Support for Israel is still stong in the US while support for the Palestinian position is still anemic and even Congressional Democrats will have to take that into account.
      As I pointed out, even Eisenhower couldn’t impose an agreement under far more favorable circumstances than those facing Obama and the US so nothing like that is in the cards.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Emenike

      Isreal is eating its cake and having it too but like the Nazis of Germany the changes will be forced on Isreal,Remember the Nazis thought the third Riech will be alive for a thousand years.There are natural cosmic laws of Nature not even the US and Isreal can overcome.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        I remember once upon a time those that hated Israel would actually bring forward real potential threats in their arguments and pray for them to come true. Now we are down to ‘natural cosmic laws of Nature’. Scraping the bottom of the barrel there with those threats.. Now close your eyes and will it to come true. That will surely help the ‘natural cosmic laws of Nature’ destroy Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    9. […] on, because, after all, of what importance are the negotiators when the only point is to talk? If rumors of an American bridging proposal slated to be brought out in January are true, it is almost certain that the purpose will be to use […]

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