Shimon Shiffer is a conventional Israeli journalist-commentator, insofar as he can be counted on to sound at least a bit left of center in his criticism of the current government. He also works for Yedioth Aharonot. Once it was the daily newspaper with the largest circulation, but has now lost that competition to the Sheldon Adelson giveaway, Israel Hayom. The two newspapers often snipe at one another, or worse, accusing one another of bad journalism and tilting what they print, in behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu (Israel Hayom) or against him and his government (Yedioth Aharonot)..
Shiffer is responsible for outing Defense Minister Moshe Ya''alon, whose criticism of John Kerry was either right on, over the top, a folly of poor judgment, or all of the above. We hear that Ya''alon made the comments in a close session, not for publication. The juiciness of the comments, and the potential for hurting the government that Adelson views as his was too much for Shiffer to overlook. It will take some time before we see how much the revelation of not for publication will hurt Shiffer''s reputation. Not, most likely, among other journalists who tend to be in the same quadrant politically as Shiffer, but perhaps among government officials and others having something to say, who may think twice before saying anything sensitive in Shiffer''s presence.
Shiffer''s article was headlined with one of Ya''alon''s quotations, "Kerry should win his Nobel and leave us alone." Among the other gems--
"The American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it''s written on . . . It contains no peace and no security. Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and the River Jordan will endure (sic: probably meant insure) that Ben-Gurion Airport and Netanya don''t become targets for rockets from every direction. American Secretary of State John Kerry, who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor, cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians."
Shiffer''s article obtained two days of top billing on the hourly news and among prominent commentators. It did not end with what was called Ya''alon''s "apology,"
"Israel and the United states share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry. . . . We appreciate Secretary Kerry''s many efforts towards that end. The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister."
It did not add to the genuine and heartfelt nature of an advertized apology by being issued by the Ministry of Defense. It did not come from Ya''alon himself, standing with slumped shoulders, looking at the floor, with a shamed look on his face.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Lieberman, and President Peres did not explicitly disown the substance of Ya''alon''s remarks, but each expressed dismay at the possibility than a ranking Israeli official may have insulted a ranking American. They each said that the United States is Israel''s best friend and most valued supporter in its difficult international relations, and its President and Secretary of State have dedicated themselves to bringing about an agreement in the spirit that Israel values.
Another of Israel''s government ministers initially said that he agreed with Ya''alon, but a day later got on message and said that such comments are fair to express in closed meetings among Israelis and perhaps with Americans, but should not spoil the atmosphere by being expressed in public.
Contrary to what many are saying, it may have been a good idea to say them in public. Ya''alon''s position as Defense Minister and his closeness to the Prime Minister, render it likely that his sentiments are shared by the Prime Minister. No doubt it is Netanyahu''s task to smooth over any hard feelings generated at the pinnacle of the American government, especially when officials speaking for the State Department and White House expressed their shock at the personal insult directed at Kerry and the collective insult directed at the United States Government. However, the public nature of the comments should make it clear to all but the most closed minded of American officials how ranking Israelis view their efforts.
It is also possible that Ya''alon''s sentiments are shared by individuals at the peak of the Palestinian government. Kerry is demanding what neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian leadership can do, each for their own political reasons. He is putting them on the spot, endangering their political futures, as well as threatening an escalation of frustration and violence that will hinder any continuation of lower level accommodations.
Ya''alon is in good company. The Syrian Foreign Minister recently said about the same thing concerning the moralistic speech that John Kerry made at a conference in Switzerland meant to settle the Syrian civil war. Kerry was aghast at the inhumanity of Syrian President Assad. The problem is, that Assad has the support of Russian, Iran, and China. He may not be winning the civil war, but neither is he losing it. Syria Foreign Minister made the conventional accusation that Israel was behind the civil war. We can dismiss that as conventional Arab rhetoric, while agreeing with his point that John Kerry is not able to solve Syria''s problem.
Leading Palestinians have been quoted as opposing what seems likely to come from Kerry. They have not approached an insult, at least in the Hebrew or English versions widely broadcast. They have typically expressed their opposition to America''s signing on to an Israeli posture Palestinians cannot possibly accept.
A comment attributed to French President François Hollande may offer a key to what has been happening, and deserves as much attention as anything heard from John Kerry or Moshe Ya''alon.
The comment came in the context of Israel''s campaign among diplomats to complain about the disproportionate attack of foreign governments on Israeli settlement activity, while the same governments have ignored Palestinian anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incitements in the media, schoolrooms, and the comments of key political and religious figures.
President Holande said it was all a diplomatic game.
It is far from clear what precisely he meant. He may have been thinking about the campaign of European governments against Israeli settlements, or the Israeli campaign against the failure of European governments to condemn Palestinian incitement. He might also have been thinking about John Kerry and the entirety of his peace process. Or perhaps the competitive campaigns of Israelis and Palestinians, neither of which like the substance of what they are hearing from John Kerry. Both are trying to maneuver the other into the corner labeled "rejectionist."
Or Holande may not have been as clear and thoughtful as usual. He may have been thinking less about the Middle East than a media blitz into his private life, and having to choose between wife and mistress.
Somewhere in their hearts diplomats might aspire to actually change things, but much of the time they express sentiments with carefully measured tones. They mean to say what their governments would like to happen, without making clear just how important each statement really is, and usually without expecting anything like immediate and complete compliance. Or perhaps not expecting anything more than carefully measured responses from the government to which their own carefully measured comments were directed.
An American politician suspicious of fancy dressed diplomats who spent their time at cocktail parties coined the label "cookie pushers."
Involved in the noise are the claims of Jewish leftists, in Israel and abroad, that the settlements are at the heart of the dispute between Israel and Palestine. Israeli business leaders and ministers dealing with the economy are demanding that Netanyahu find a way to make peace with Palestine, in order to forestall the damage from boycotts against Israeli companies.
Yet we also hear from both leftists and business leaders that the Palestinian leadership may be unable to accept, in a final and official way, the existence of Israel in any of the Land of Palestine.
For those inclined to be candid about the failure of the Palestinian leadership, the latest evidence comes from Palestinian neighborhoods of Syrian cities. Again the Palestinians chose sides poorly, with the result of major destruction, a closing of supply lines even to UNWRA, and deaths by starvation.
So where are we?
Building neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the large settlement blocks that are most defensible, and holding on to the Jordan Valley, apparently with the implicit agreement of the Jordanian government.
None of this might calm the Secretary of State, and his concern to make history. However, it is being made, only partly if at all in response to him.