Last week, the Minister of Defense Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon sharply criticized the ongoing peace process initiated by the Secretary of State, John Kerry. Ya'alon stated that “the U.S. defense plan presented to us is not worth the paper it was written on. It contains neither security nor peace. Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan River will ensure that Ben-Gurion Airport and Netanya will not become the targets of missile attack from all directions”.
This statement reflects, first and foremost, a demonstrative lack of appreciation, and perhaps even disrespect, of the professional ability of the U.S security agencies, particularly the U.S army. According to various reports, over 160 experts from various fields took part in the formulation of this plan. Ya'alon's statements also show blatant defiance to the Secretary of State, who was quoted saying that the plan assures Israel the safest border in the world - safer from the border between the U.S. and Canada.
Ya'alon then continued on the following key points: a. Abu Mazen survives only due to the Israeli presence in the West Bank. Once we leave the area he is finished. b. during these past months, there haven’t been negotiations between us and the Palestinians, but between us and the United States. c. At the moment, we are the only side who made gestures to the Palestinians - releasing murderers - while the Palestinians have not offered a thing. d. John Kerry, acts out of unexplained obsession and a messianic sensation. “The only thing that can ‘save’ us is for John Kerry to win his Nobel Prize and leave us alone”.
Following the great storm his words ignited, Avalon issued a clarification announcement, followed by an apology for the personal attack on Kerry. Avalon extolled the importance of the relations with the United States and Kerry's contribution to the peace process. However, the Minister of Defense did not reflect any regret of his statement. He stressed that he will continue to work for strengthening the security of Israeli citizens.
At the same time, Minister of Housing, Uri Ariel, stated that Israel will continue to build in Judea and Samaria, except for the E1 area, despite the American and Palestinian resistance. He also claimed that Kerry shows a bias in favor of the Palestinian stand, which casts doubt on his status as an "honest broker" between Israel and the Palestinians.
So far, the Prime Minister did not see fit to make an unequivocally statement which will stand opposed to the statements of the two ministers, emphasize Israel's commitment to the peace process and its trust in the Secretary of State, Kerry. Netanyahu's response to Avalon's words was feeble and touched only the personal dimension of Avalon's criticism. Few days before he implicitly criticized the heavy pressure the United States exerts on Israel throughout the peace process.
At the same time the Secretary of State seems to be dissatisfied by the lack of intensive pressure on Israel by the European states. In recent months, it has been reported that he reflected veiled and open threats toward Israel, that its lack of willingness to flex its positions in the political process will increase the political isolation and lead the European Union to take punitive measures which will hurt it.
The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, who was visiting Israel made no statement on the peace process and the continued construction in the settlements. The German Minister for Foreign Affairs Stein Meier, who visited Israel last week, bothered to refute the news of a crisis in Israel-Germany relations, because of the Israeli stands in the political process and the continued building in the settlements. He stressed the fact that Israel was the first state he chose to visit on his second term in office. This, he stated, reflects the German "commitment to the close relations between Germany and Israel". His response to the construction in the settlements was feeble and very mild. He said that this activity “disrupted the current efforts of the foreign minister Kerry." He called on Israel to avoid further announcements about construction permits in Judea and Samaria.
At the same time, the American Secretary of State is also disturbed by the positions of the Palestinian Authority and the Arab countries. PA leader Mahmud Abbas reiterated the stands of the authority in the peace process – unwillingness to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state, insisting that Jerusalem itself, not the surrounding neighborhoods, will be the capital of the Palestinian state. Right of return, he stressed, is a right given to every Palestinian and nobody can deny it from him. Similar stands were heard at the meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Paris, in a meeting with Kerry. It seems that the threats made on a termination or reducing of aid to the Palestinian Authority do not lead it to a softening of its positions in the political process.
The current situation brings the Obama administration, and especially Secretary of State Kerry, to decision time. It is clear that the political process cannot go on like this. President Obama's status among the American public is at an unprecedented low level. Various groups in Congress, academia and the media are criticizing the conduct of the Secretary of State Kerry in the context of the political process. His rivals mention the fact that in last year he visited the area more than ten times, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the region only five times throughout the term. So far, Kerry's efforts did not lead to any visible achievement.
Another fact worth mentioning, and which will significantly affect the decisions of the Secretary of State, is the level of support and backup he will receive from President Obama. Until now, following Ya'alon statement, President Obama has not made it decisively clear that he gives his full trust and backup to the Secretary of State.
It is clear Ya'alon's words have significantly confined the hands of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Its maneuverability, which has been limited in any case, has now been reduced further. Under these circumstances, presumably, the doubts in Obama’s administration if there is any point in continuing the peace process in its current form will be exacerbated.
The Obama administration is well aware that the political process, under the current circumstances, might severely erode not only the prestige and status of the Secretary of State, but also the authority and prestige of the Obama administration. Thus, and if there is no dramatic and unexpected change in the positions of the parties to the peace process, the Obama administration will have to carry out a reassessment of the future of the peace process and U.S involvement in it.