The John Kerry that Israelis saw deliver a statement to the press following his
meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday was not the John
Kerry that they saw a short month ago in a joint television interview with an
Israeli and Palestinian journalist.
That Kerry, the one from the
interview with Channel 2’s Udi Segal and Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation’s
Maher Shalabi on November 7, was the Kerry threatening Israel with a third
intifada if the talks with the Palestinians collapsed.
That was the
agitated Kerry who lectured about the settlements, pretty much placing the onus
for a lack of movement in the talks with the Palestinians on Israel, and warning
that if a peace agreement was not reached, Israel would face increasing
isolation and delegitimization.
That was the Kerry who said, “Israel
says, ‘Oh, we feel safe today, we have a 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.”
That was the
Kerry who signaled impatience with Israel’s demand for a security presence along
the Jordan River, saying that “if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers
perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that
if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to nonviolence, you
may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
Kerry, at least the one on display alongside Netanyahu, was completely
different. Nary a word about the settlements, not a word about a third intifada,
not a hint of his “I’ve got news for you” hectoring.
On Thursday it was
smiles, “my friend, Bibi,” and a deep understanding of Israel’s security
If the television interview left the impression of a secretary
of state a bit cavalier and dismissive about Israel’s security concerns,
Thursday’s statement provided the antidote.
“I understand the challenge
of security that Israel faces,” he said, after recalling a visit he took to
Kiryat Shmona in 1986 where he saw Israeli children hiding from rockets from
Lebanon, and another visit he took years later to Sderot where he saw people
“taking cover from Gaza.”
What happened? What happened was a bad month in
USIsraeli relations – a month where everybody, including Iran, saw fundamental
tactical differences between the US and Israel.
What happened was, at
Washington’s urging, the signing of an interim accord on Iran that the Israeli
government considers a danger to Israel’s security.
A senior US
administration official who briefed reporters Thursday said that in the US view,
the Iranian deal has not impacted on the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process.
Iran, he said, was a separate discussion.
This, however, seems to be
wishful thinking. The two issues – the Iran deal and the Palestinian
negotiations – may not be linked in Washington’s view, but they are linked in
Not linked in the sense that if you get something on the
Iranian front, you can give something more to the Palestinians, but rather that
Israel watched carefully, and with grave concern, what happened in Geneva, and
drew the conclusions.
Despite the efforts of Kerry and Netanyahu to paper
over difference at their joint appearance on Thursday, there was deep, deep
disappointment in Israel over how the Obama administration, and Kerry, handled
the Iranian dossier.
Even though the criticism in recent days has been
more muted, and the focus now on the future negotiations with Iran, Jerusalem
still believes the interim deal was, as Netanyahu said repeatedly in the past, a
And here is where there is linkage with the Palestinian
issue, and it also explains Kerry’s underlining the security issue in his
First of all, the agreement Kerry is pushing with the
Palestinians will necessitate Israel taking calculated security
But with Iran suddenly “off the ropes,” emboldened and enjoying
newfound international legitimacy as a result of the recent accord in Geneva,
Israel is likely to be less willing – not more willing – to take those security
Secondly, any possible future agreement with the Palestinians
would undoubtedly necessitate ironclad security guarantees from the US. An
Israeli willingness to place its security in the hands of American guarantees
has decreased – not increased – as a result of Washington’s handling of the
As a result, Kerry comes to Jerusalem and – unlike the
impression he left after his television interview last month – places a huge
emphasis on Israel’s security.
“I join with President Obama in expressing
to the people of Israel our deep, deep commitment to the security of Israel,” he
In order for Israel to take the security risks that will be
involved in any future accord with the Palestinians, Jerusalem will have to have
a great deal of trust in US security pledges and assurances. The Iran issue has
chipped away at the trust.
Part of the reason Kerry is here now is to