News Column

Kerry Warns Netanyahu of Consequences if Talks Fail

August 13, 2013
John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (file photo)

US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent weeks that if the current peace talks bear no fruit, Israel may face an international delegitimization campaign "on steroids", says "Bloomberg" columnist Jeffrey Goldberg.

Goldberg quotes officials, who requested anonymity, as saying that Kerry thinks that the one thing Netanyahu fears as much as Iran's nuclear program is the growing power of the international movement that seeks to isolate, scapegoat and demonize his country. He adds a caveat: Kerry, like most Americans who know Netanyahu, understands that the prime minister's narrowest but most potent fear is of being unseated.

Goldberg says that Kerry has managed to at least partially capture Netanyahu's attention -- partially because the Netanyahu government's self-destructive West Bank settlement program continues apace (though the latest round of construction is scheduled to take place on territory that would almost certainly be granted to Israel in final-status talks).

"There are some early signs that Netanyahu is realizing the price his country may one day pay for its settlements, in particular those near Palestinian population centers. He met recently with some of Israel's leading manufacturers, who expressed their worry that their products may one day be boycotted in Europe, a worry he shares," writes Goldberg.

"Although Netanyahu is worried that the campaign to make Israel appear to be an illegitimate state could hurt the country's robust economy, he is said to be even more worried that this campaign will erode Israel's ability to defend itself. The theory is simple: A country seen as illegitimate, not only by the powerful Arab lobby at the UN but also by Western powers, will have little standing if it is forced to retaliate against sustained attacks from groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which remain committed to Israel's extermination. Netanyahu thinks that the campaign to delegitimize Israel could force Western powers to rein in Israel, or at the very least, rush to condemn it before it has the chance to defend itself.

"Netanyahu's two fears are related. Israel will find it increasingly difficult to one day act against the Iranian nuclear program if it is hobbled by the hostility of the international community."

Goldberg states, "For years, I've been arguing that Israel would find more sympathy in its campaign against Iranian nukes if it was more willing to compromise with the Palestinians. Netanyahu, unlike other prominent figures on the Israeli right, has agreed in principle to a two-state solution, but he hasn't done very much to bring it about -- he has only grudgingly and temporarily suspended expansions of the settlements located on land that would almost surely be part of the future state of Palestine. But Netanyahu has lately been leaning in the direction of the Israeli political center. And by doing this he is making the truculent base of his party, the Likud, quite nervous."

As for the new EU guidelines restricting members from funding research beyond the Green Line, Goldberg says, "These politicians decided, in their wisdom, that Israel should engage in a partial boycott of the EU. They're demanding that Israel withdraw from a lucrative EU-sponsored research-funding program to protest the settlement exclusion guidelines. Netanyahu also finds the new EU guidelines reprehensible (and they are, in fact, highly problematic, potentially placing settlers in the far-flung Jewish colonies of the West Bank in the same category as Jewish residents of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City). But he understands that he can't win a fight with the entire EU if it decides to enact a partial boycott of his country. On the one hand, EU hostility toward Israel isn't particularly helpful to Kerry or his chief negotiator, Martin Indyk. Threats directed at Israel from Europe, the continent whose cruelty and hatred helped create a need for a Jewish national refuge in the first place, may, in the short term, bolster Israel's far-right, which could handcuff Netanyahu in negotiations."

Goldberg concludes, "On the other hand, the majority of Israelis are sensible, and they know, as Netanyahu knows, that Israel can't exist in an entirely friendless world. Partly because of the actions of the EU, Netanyahu is listening to Kerry's warnings with newly open ears."


(c)2013 the Globes (Tel Aviv, Israel)

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Source: Copyright Globes (Tel Aviv) 2013

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