While the world’s attention is focused on the tensions surrounding the Iran nuclear talks, another drama is unfolding in Israel–one that may cause more immediate damage to U.S.-Israel relations than differences over the terms offered to Tehran in Geneva. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks last week to an Israeli TV station that Israel needed to fear a “third intifada” have caused shock, alarm, and anti-Obama protests.
Kerry’s remarks came in a joint interview conducted by an Israeli and a Palestinian journalist. While Kerry pushed back against the Palestinian journalist’s suggestion that a “one-state solution” might be necessary, he also described Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as “illegitimate” and warned ominously: “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?”
The implication was that Israel bore responsibility for the failure of talks, and that terrorism would be a legitimate response to the collapse of the peace process. Many Israelis judged that Kerry’s remarks could be construed as encouraging terrorism. Over the weekend, there were protests outside the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, with some banners reminding Kerry that the U.S. forced Israel to free terrorists earlier this year.
Meanwhile, former diplomat and Israeli legal expert Alan Baker wrote a scathing open letter to Kerry on the question of whether settlements in the West Bank are “legitimate.” Citing the letter of international law, Baker declared: “I respectfully wish to state, unequivocally, that you are mistaken and ill advised, both in law and in fact.” He added that Kerry’s remarks about a “third intifada” had aided Palestinian propaganda.
There are certainly many Israelis who perceive settlements as an obstacle to peace, but few who view terror as a reasonable or acceptable response by Palestinians. It is also clear to many Israelis, even in the shrinking peace camp, that the reasons for lack of progress in negotiations are Palestinian disunity on the one hand and intransigence on the other–intransigence encouraged by the Obama administration’s pressure on Israel.
The irony is that France, which abandoned Israel on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, and where Jews have suffered an outbreak of antisemitic violence in recent years, is now seen as a more reliable diplomatic partner than the Obama administration. It was France that recognized the weakness of the “very, very bad deal” on offer in Geneva. Kerry’s provocative remarks have thrown U.S.-Israel relations into further doubt.