In recent weeks, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has garnered media attention for criticizing the Obama administration. On at least two occasions, including this week, Ya’alon was forced to apologize.
One senior US official told The Jerusalem Post that “given the unprecedented commitment that this administration has made to Israel’s security, we are mystified why the defense minister seems intent on undermining the relationship.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to protest Ya’alon’s comments.
Some of Ya’alon’s statements were truly unfortunate. For instance, back in January, he made a highly personal attack on Kerry, referring to him as “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It should be noted, however, that Yediot Aharonot’s Shimon Shiffer, basing himself on questionable journalistic ethics, published comments that Ya’alon had made privately without the defense minister’s consent.
Other comments were less personal but nevertheless highly critical of US attempts to broker a peace deal. For instance, earlier this month in a lengthy TV interview, Ya’alon said that anyone who believed it was possible to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anytime soon was “mistaken, misleading and delusional.” When Channel 2’s Rina Matzliach asked if he believed the US was an “honest broker,” Ya’alon replied, “Let’s wait and see at the end of the process.”
And this week Ya’alon was at it again. During a speech at Tel Aviv University delivered in a closed forum on Monday, he reportedly criticized the US administration, saying that it was “demonstrating weakness” in its foreign policy in the Middle East and vis-à-vis Russia, and that Israel could not rely on the US to stop Iran’s nuclear march. He went on to say that America’s aid to Israel needed to be “seen in proportion” and that the US also benefited from the relationship.
Judging from their reactions, Kerry and other high-ranking officials in the Obama administration are quite upset over Ya’alon’s comments.
From a purely diplomatic perspective, Ya’alon should have been more discreet about some of the critical remarks he made, if for no other reason than to acknowledge the special relationship that exists between the US and Israel due to our shared values, interests and beliefs.
On numerous occasions, including on his Facebook page, he has acknowledged the special ties that connect the two countries.
Some might argue that Ya’alon, particularly in his speech at Tel Aviv University, was simply showing the US some of the same tough love the US shows Israel. The White House, after all, criticizes Israeli settlement policy and “occupation” as a danger to a Jewish and democratic state, saying it cares about Israel’s future.
Still, it seems inappropriate and condescending for little Israel to publicly give unsolicited advice to its patron. Ya’alon should have reserved his critical comments for private meetings with US administration figures.
Another problem with Ya’alon’s comments – particularly those on the futility of the peace talks and the irrationality of those who believe peace is possible – is that they are out of step with Netanyahu’s declared policy of supporting a two-state solution and viewing the status quo as dangerous because it inevitably will lead to a binational state.
Admittedly, the disconnect between Ya’alon and Netanyahu is not as pronounced as the seeming lack of coordination on foreign policy that existed in the previous government between Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Netanyahu. Though Ya’alon has made no secret of his opposition to a two-state solution, he has not gone out of his way to vocalize his opinion.
Still, unlike Liberman, Ya’alon and Netanyahu are members of the same political party. Other Likud ministers such as Gilad Erdan, Gideon Sa’ar and Israel Katz, who are also opposed to a two-state solution, have so far kept quiet out of deference to Netanyahu.
Clearly relations between the US and Israel will remain strong despite Ya’alon’s comments. Indeed, Ya’alon might have made some of his comments precisely because he was working on the assumption that friends are honest with one another. In any event, even friends make mistakes sometimes.