The State Department went to great lengths on Sunday to roundly deny a report that the US administration is furious with Defense Minister Ehud Barak over allegedly misleading them regarding his role in the peace process.
In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post initiated by the administration, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the report in Sunday’s Haaretz was “not true.”
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“We have the highest respect for Barak, and will continue to work with him on a full range of issues,” Crowley said. That Crowley was speaking to Israeli reporters on a Sunday, in the midst of the long New Year’s Day weekend, is an indication how important it was for the administration to deny the story.
According to the Haaretz story, the administration was furious with Barak for overselling in Washington his ability to nudge Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu forward on peace process issues.
The story said that the anger reached up to US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that they were particularly perturbed that he promised that Netanyahu would sign off on an additional three-month settlement freeze in exchange for diplomatic and military guarantees.
The story also said the Americans would, from now on, only deal with Barak on security matters.
One US official said in response to the story that Washington would not freeze Barak out of the diplomatic discussion because he is “the foreign minister to the US.”
The official said Washington does not “have a close relationship” with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The official also said the administration knew all along that given Netanyahu’s political coalition, on issues such as the settlement moratorium it would be Netanyahu himself – not Barak – who would be making the decisions.
The official said that no one in the administration ever believed the proposition that Barak could “deliver Netanyahu.”
Sources close to Barak and Netanyahu unequivocally dismissed the story as “utter nonsense,” saying its origin was likely among Barak’s numerous detractors inside Labor or Kadima who were looking to embarrass him.
The sources pointed out that the story was based on what an anonymous Israeli official said he heard from a senior US official.
But Barak Ravid, who wrote the Haaretz piece, said that – as he reported in the story – the details were confirmed by five independent sources.
“Even after the publication of the story, and during my conversation with P.J. Crowley, I received e-mails from different sources in Washington saying the complete opposite of what was being said by the State Department spokesman,” Ravid said.
Ravid said it was “natural and understandable that the State Department spokesman would get a directive from on high to deny this type of story, in light of pressure that I imagine was placed on him from the Kirya [the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv], from the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and from different sources in the US Jewish community.”
Labor leadership candidate Minorities Affairs Avishay Braverman, meanwhile, used the story to launch a fierce attack against Barak on Sunday, accusing him at the party’s ministerial meeting of harming Labor and its values.
He said the story proved that Labor needed to endorse his proposal to quit the coalition if direct diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority were not restarted immediately.
Braverman told Barak at Labor’s ministerial meeting on Sunday that his strategy of mediating between Netanyahu and the Americans had failed.
“Not only is there no peace process, but our security has been harmed,”
Braverman told Barak. “The bottom line is that your contacts with the
Americans have caused great damage to Israel and there is no chance of
Both Welfare and Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and Industry,
Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer backed up Braverman at the
But Labor secretary-general Hilik Bar released a statement condemning
Braverman, and officials close to Barak called upon him to fire the
rebellious minister.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.