Kerry in Israel: Blind Alleys and Empty Words

Israel’s strategic affairs minister calls for fast action on Iran, while the Obama administration is mired in delusions.

Secretary of State John Kerry was in Israel on Monday and Tuesday, after a stop in Turkey. Reports indicate the usual mix of Obama-administration delusions and dubious promises.

The Jerusalem Post reported Israeli officials’ “astonishment” at statements Kerry made in Istanbul on Sunday, when he praised the Turkish government’s “sensitiv[ity]” and lack of “triumphalism” in responding to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s “apology” over Israel’s Mavi Marmara raid.

That apology was made by phone to Turkish prime minister Erdogan over two weeks ago at the tail-end of President Obama’s visit to Israel. Some believe Obama pressured Netanyahu into making the call; some sources in Israel have said Israeli officialdom was itself keen on mending fences with Turkey out of a hope of renewed strategic cooperation on regional threats.

But what is clear is that Turkey’s response has been less than heartwarming and tends to confirm those who stressed Erdogan’s ideological hostility (if not outright anti-Semitism) toward Israel. As Israeli officials reminded the Post, the Turkish press has been full of reports and interviews with Erdogan and his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu “gloating over the apology.” A day after the apology, billboards in Ankara gave a clear triumphalist message.

Erdogan has announced plans to visit Hamas in Gaza. Davutoglu hosted a dinner for relatives of Turks killed on the Mavi Marmara and members of the Al-Qaeda-linked IHH organization that sent the ship. Meanwhile Israeli-Turkish talks on supposedly renewing ties have been delayed by two weeks.

Kerry appears to respond to such developments with Orwellian inversions instead of serious stocktaking.

Once in Israel, Kerry surprised no one by pursuing the Palestinian issue, meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad (reportedly soon to be sacked by Abbas). The UK’s Telegraph reports that Kerry “wanted to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative…as a basis” for restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The Arab Peace Initiative was a plan broached by Saudi Arabia in 2002 in an effort to rehabilitate its post-9/11 image. It purports to offer Israel full diplomatic relations with Arab countries in return for withdrawing to indefensible borders and being inundated with Palestinian “refugees.” The Telegraph says Kerry

was said to have proposed wording that would soften the initiative’s demand for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders, saying they could be modified by mutual agreement, while inserting stronger security guarantees for Israel.

It also says Abbas turned him down flat, insisting on full Israeli return to the 1967 lines and the release of terrorists from Israeli prisons. No surprises there either, since Abbas has, on various pretexts, refused talks with Israel since Kerry’s boss assumed office in 2009.

Yet the Telegraph goes on to say that Kerry “is expected to visit Israel and the West Bank every fortnight in an effort to give momentum to efforts at renewing the peace process….”

If accurate, this will be a remarkable waste of American energy and resources on something that has repeatedly proved to be a dead-end at best.

Meanwhile it turns out Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is also coming to Israel this month. Over the past year particularly, processions of high-level U.S. officials to Israel—in this case, with Hagel following Obama and Kerry, as high-level as it gets—have been aimed at dissuading Israel from taking action on Iran’s nuclear program.

Kerry, for his part, said Tuesday morning after meeting with Netanyahu that “we are open to negotiation [with Iran], but it is not an open-ended, endless negotiation…. Iran cannot have and will not have a nuclear weapon.”

On Sunday Israel’s strategic affairs minister Yuval Steinitz, who is close to Netanyahu, conveyed a considerably sharper sense of urgency, stating:

Sanctions are not enough and the talks are not enough. The time has come to place before the Iranians a military threat or a form of red line, an unequivocal red line by the entire world, by the United States and the order to get results.

Steinitz, who says something should be done in “a few weeks, a month” if Iran doesn’t stop enriching uranium, added:

We warned beforehand that the way in which these talks are being conducted is a ploy to gain time, the Iranians are talking and laughing their way to a bomb…. [W]hat is currently happening in Korea serves to urgent it is to stop Iran’s nuclear (activity).

Is the Obama administration, with all its delusions about the region, capable of seriousness about Iran? The top Israeli leaders are likely grappling right now with that question.

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