Mideast Media Sampler 08/14/2013
For the third time in two weeks we have a report about Secretary of State Kerry’s concern for Israel.
First in the New York Times:
With the Palestinians poised to take their claim for statehood to the International Criminal Court and United Nations bodies, American officials say the two sides were facing a downward spiral in which the Israelis would respond by cutting off financing to the Palestinian territories and European nations might curtail their investment in Israel, further isolating the Israelis.
Then it was in the Times of Israel:
An optimistic-sounding Kerry asked the Jewish leaders for their help in supporting the newly restarted talks, The Times of Israel learned, saying that he feared for Israel’s future if a peace deal is not reached.
Yesterday it was Jeffrey Goldberg:
Kerry, capitalizing on this anxiety, has warned Netanyahu in recent weeks that if the current peace talks bear no fruit, Israel may soon be facing an international delegitimization campaign — in his words — “on steroids.”
This is not the behavior of someone who’s concerned. Mahmoud Abbas’s international campaign against Israel is a violation of the principle of direct negotiations that supposedly underlies the peace process. Kerry, as America’s top diplomat, has the power to use words, or, if those fail, soft power to dissuade Abbas from doing so. He has chosen, instead, to stand aside.
Netanyahu to Kerry: Palestinians continuing incitement against Israel http://t.co/5qUn4nncz3
— The Times of Israel (@TimesofIsrael) August 11, 2013
In trying to build support for his peace plan, Kerry is now trying to build it among American Jews. First he broadcast his message to Jewish-American liberals through the New York Times. But they were probably a receptive audience anyway. Then he went to the Jewish leaders with a soft sell, though promising more vigorous lobbying later. Then he went to Jeffrey Goldberg, who has on a number of occasions, faithfully carried the administration’s message for them. Goldberg’s audience is different from the first. They might be more skeptical but Goldberg isn’t a knee jerk liberal, so his support matters.
Still in all this messaging something’s missing: The Washington Post. There has obviously been reporting on Kerry’s initiative, after all he’s the Secretary of State and this is clearly a priority of the administration. But in the past month there have been about two op-eds about the peace process and no unsigned editorials about it. (In contrast the New York Times, which has featured numerous staff editorial, a Thomas Friedman column, a series of Roger Cohen columns telling Israel how important it is to make peace and assorted op-eds too.)
Kerry tells Netanyahu: Israel's settlement activity violates terms of peace talks – http://t.co/BfgXwVoBSh
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) August 13, 2013
Why the disinterest at the Washington Post? I can think of two reasons.
In 2010 when someone publicized a building tender for Jerusalem while Vice President Biden was visiting, the Obama administration made it into a major diplomatic incident. But the Washington Post didn’t approve.
But Mr. Obama risks repeating his previous error. American chastising of Israel invariably prompts still harsher rhetoric, and elevated demands, from Palestinian and other Arab leaders. Rather than join peace talks, Palestinians will now wait to see what unilateral Israeli steps Washington forces. Mr. Netanyahu already has made a couple of concessions in the past year, including declaring a partial moratorium on settlements. But on the question of Jerusalem, he is likely to dig in his heels — as would any other Israeli government. If the White House insists on a reversal of the settlement decision, or allows Palestinians to do so, it might land in the same corner from which it just extricated itself.
Of course there was a reason for the misgivings expressed in 2010. Jackson Diehl, a member of the editorial board, profiled Mahmoud Abbas shortly after President Obama was elected.
Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze — if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. Abbas rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession — such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.
I don’t know if the Washington Post sidelined itself or if its skepticism has meant that the administration won’t use it for its Middle East messaging.
It’s also important to remember that when Abbas, after Obama failed to force Netanyahu from office or change his position on settlements, announced that he would reject direct negotiations and seek international pressure on Israel in an op-ed in the New York Times in May, 2011.
The Obama administration didn’t exercise any diplomatic leverage against Abbas or even condemn this rejection of the premise of the peace process. When Kerry says he is worried about Israel’s isolation, he is shedding crocodile tears. He could use his position to fight Israel’s isolation, but that is not his or the administration’s interest. According to report in Ha’aretz, an EU official said that the administration gave “tacit support” to Europe’s recent restrictions on awards to Israeli concerns in Judea and Samaria.
It’s hard to say that Kerry is “worried” about Israel’s isolation when he and the administration are working actively to increase that isolation.