Text: Barnea article of Kerry team slamming Netanyahu
[Dr. Aaron Lerner Date: 4 May 2014
Below is the headline making interview in which the Americans from Kerry's
team complain to Nachum Barnea about Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
It is an early Israel Independence Day gift to Netanyahu.
Here is what they told Barnea:
#1. The Palestinians refused to compromise during the course of negotiations
and insisted that any Israeli security presence (including in the Jordan
Valley) vanish within no more than 5 years.
#2. Netanyahu insists on absolute Israeli security control for an unlimited
period of time.
#3. Netanyahu refused to agree to a map dividing Jerusalem.
#4. Netanyahu's attorney, Molcho, stood guard to thwart efforts by Livni to
compromise Israel's position.
For almost all Israelis reading the above there is a simple reaction:
Three cheers for Netanyahu!]
Inside the talks' failure: US officials open up
In an exclusive interview, American officials directly connected to the
talks reveal the real reason for the collapse of the negotiations.
Published: 05.02.14, 23:51 / Israel News
The American version of why the current round of negotiations between Israel
and the Palestinians failed is fundamentally different to the one presented
by Israeli officials. The list of those to blame for this failure is also
very different. From the US perspective, the issue of the settlements was
largely to blame.
Senior American officials involved in Secretary of State John Kerry's peace
push this week agreed to share with me their take on the talks' failure.
They had one condition, in line with instructions they had received - that I
didn't name them. But what they told me is the closest thing to an official
American version of what happened.
The American team will be disbanded in the coming days - most of it, or all
of it. Kerry has yet to decide what he is going to do - whether he will wait
several months and then try to renew his effort, or release the principles
of an agreement formulated by the Americans.
By releasing the American principles, Kerry would force the two sides to
play offense - each side in its own internal battleground - but in doing so,
he also risks exposing himself to criticism over the many errors he made
along the way.
Using advanced software, the Americans drew a border outline in the West
Bank that gives Israel sovereignty over some 80 percent of the settlers that
live there today. The remaining 20 percent were meant to evacuate. In
Jerusalem, the proposed border is based on Bill Clinton's plan - Jewish
neighborhoods to Israel, Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians.
The Israeli government made no response to the American plan, and avoided
drawing its own border outline.
The criticism against the Israeli government is presented in terms of wounds
inflicted by a friend who could still be trusted: Israel is very dear to
them, but the wounds are deep.
Let's go back to the beginning. Was this round not doomed for failure from
"The negotiations had to start with a decision to freeze settlement
construction. We thought that we couldn't achieve that because of the
current makeup of the Israeli government, so we gave up. We didn't realize
Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction
as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn't realize
continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very
effectively sabotage the success of the talks.
"There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort's failure, but people in
Israel shouldn't ignore the bitter truth - the primary sabotage came from
the settlements. The Palestinians don't believe that Israel really intends
to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements
on the territory meant for that state. We're talking about the announcement
of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we
learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does
not reconcile with the agreement.
"At this point, it's very hard to see how the negotiations could be renewed,
let alone lead to an agreement. Towards the end, Abbas demanded a
three-month freeze on settlement construction. His working assumption was
that if an accord is reached, Israel could build along the new border as it
pleases. But the Israelis said no."
Did President Obama's decision to distance himself from the negotiations
contribute to the talks' failure?
"The president supported Kerry throughout the duration of the talks. The
clearest example of that was his willingness to prepare for Jonathan
Pollard's release. Such a move wouldn't have helped his popularity in the
American security system.
"Moreover, when one of the president's aides accused Kerry of the talks'
failure during a background briefing with the New York Times, the president
made an exception and publicly supported his secretary of state.
"It is true that the president was doubtful. That was obvious from the
start. He questioned the willingness of leaders on both sides to take the
necessary risks. In the end, he realized he was right."
In hindsight, had the president been more involved, could an accord have
"No. Usually, the president's involvement is very important. We all remember
how President Jimmy Carter mediated between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat
in Camp David; we all remember President Clinton's crucial involvement in
the talks between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat at the Wye River
summit (in 1998). But this case is different. Kerry has invested a lot in
his personal relationship with Netanyahu. They talked on the phone three
times a week and sometimes three times a day. There were video conference
calls and close to 70 meetings. The relationship of trust between Kerry and
Netanyahu was crucial to ensure that Netanyahu tempered his positions and
moved forward. The president does not have the time for such a long-term
effort - and besides, there are many rifts between Obama and Netanyahu.
Every negotiation is a special case. This round was a very special case."
The leaders on both sides are spoiled. They make decisions that mean paying
a political price only when there's a knife at their throat. A superpower
like the United States has convincing means of pressure, but you avoided
"There was a massive effort on our part to pull the wagon out of the deep
quicksand it was stuck in. But the reality here hit us hard. Neither side
had a sense of urgency. Kerry was the only one who felt a sense of urgency,
and that was not enough."
Compare the current round of talks to Henry Kissinger's efforts after the
1973 Yom Kippur War, an effort that led to disengagement agreements between
Israel and Syria, and Israel and Egypt. Compare it to James Baker's effort
after the first Gulf War, an effort that led to the Madrid Peace Conference
"At the end of a war there is a sense of urgency," they said. And then one
of them added bitterly: "I guess we need another intifada to create the
circumstances that would allow progress.
"20 years after the Oslo Accords, new game rules and facts on the ground
were created that are deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for
the Palestinians and very convenient for Israel."
What, you didn't know this in advance?
"We knew. But we willingly pushed our lack of faith aside."
"Because Kerry believed and we believed that if not now, then when? It was a
desperate effort. Kerry thought of the future - he believed, and still does,
that if the two sides can't reach an accord, Israel is going to be in a lot
worse shape than it is today."
Were you surprised when you discovered that the Israelis don't really care
what happens in the negotiations?
"Yes, we were surprised. It surprised us all along the way. When (Moshe)
Ya'alon, your defense minister, said that the only thing Kerry wants is to
win a Nobel Prize, the insult was great. We were doing this for you and for
the Palestinians. Of course, there were also American interests at play.
"A lot of people told us - 'don't stop. Keep going.' We told them: 'It's in
your hands. Take responsibility for your own fate.' But, stuck in their own
ways, they preferred we do their job for them. Public apathy was one of our
"One of the Palestinians who participated in the talks told an Israeli
participant: 'You don't see us. We're transparent, we're hollow.' He had a
point. After the second intifada ended and the separation barrier was built,
the Palestinians turned into ghosts in the eyes of the Israelis - they
couldn't see them anymore."
It almost sounds like you wish for an intifada.
"Quite the opposite, it would be a tragedy. The Jewish people are supposed
to be smart; it is true that they're also considered a stubborn nation.
You're supposed to know how to read the map: In the 21st century, the world
will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation. The occupation threatens
Israel's status in the world and threatens Israel as a Jewish state."
The world is being self-righteous. It closes its eyes to China's takeover of
Tibet, it stutters at what Russia's doing to Ukraine.
"Israel is not China. It was founded by a UN resolution. Its prosperity
depends on the way it is viewed by the international community."
The method you chose - talks based on personal relationships - has failed.
"In the first six months, there were bilateral talks under our auspices. The
two sides met about 20 times. In one of those meetings, special US envoy to
the talks Martin Indyk left the room and the two sides were left alone.
"The talks allowed us to define the gaps between the two sides. In December,
we realized it was time to present our own ideas. We held separate
discussions, with Israel and with the Palestinians. Most of the talks were
between Kerry and Netanyahu, in an effort to convince him to change his
positions and bridge the chasm.
"At this point the Palestinians were happy. They saw a rift had been created
between Kerry and Netanyahu. The rift came out to the open when Bogey
Ya'alon launched his personal attacks on Kerry.
"But while we were focusing on efforts to soften the Israeli side,
announcements of new housing tenders in settlements limited Abbas' ability
to show flexibility. He lost his trust in the talks. The worst part was when
Netanyahu said Abbas had agreed to a deal of prisoners for settlement
construction. It wasn't in line with the truth.
"Abbas went into these talks a skeptic. Actually, they were all skeptics,
but his doubts focused on Netanyahu. The Oslo Accords were Netanyahu's
creation. Abbas watched how Oslo opened the door to 400,000 Israelis to
settle beyond the Green Line. He wasn't willing to bear it anymore.
"And there were other things. Israel presented its security needs in the
West Bank: it demanded complete control over the territories. This told the
Palestinians that nothing was going to change on the security front. Israel
was not willing to agree to time frames - its control of the West Bank would
"Abbas reached the conclusion that there was nothing for him in such an
agreement. He's 79 years old. He has reached the last chapter of his life.
He's tired. He was willing to give the process one final chance, but found,
according to him, that he has no partner on the Israeli side. His legacy
won't include a peace agreement with Israel.
"In February, Abbas arrived at a Paris hotel for a meeting with Kerry. He
had a lingering serious cold. 'I'm under a lot of pressure,' he complained.
'I'm sick of this.' He rejected all of Kerry's ideas. A month later, in
March, he was invited to the White House. Obama presented the
American-formulated principles verbally - not in writing. Abbas refused.
"The claim on your side that Abbas was avoiding making decisions is not
true. He wasn't running away, he was just stuck."
Tzipi Livni claimed after the talks' collapse that Abbas wouldn't move an
inch from his known positions, while Netanyahu showed flexibility.
"It's true that Netanyahu moved (away from his positions), but he wouldn't
move more than an inch. We had to put a great deal of effort into this. When
we tried to move Abbas, we couldn't. As we said, he was shutting down,
locking into his positions. 'I made a lot of concessions,' he said. 'The
Israelis didn't know how to appreciate it,' he complained."
"He agreed to a demilitarized state; he agreed to the border outline so 80
percent of settlers would continue living in Israeli territory; he agreed
for Israel to keep security sensitive areas (mostly in the Jordan Valley -
NB) for five years, and then the United States would take over. He accepted
the fact that in the Israeli perception, the Palestinians would never be
"He also agreed that the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would remain
under Israeli sovereignty, and agreed that the return of Palestinians to
Israel would depend on Israeli willingness. 'Israel won't be flooded with
refugees,' he promised.
"He told us: 'Tell me if there's another Arab leader that would have agreed
to what I agreed to. I won't make any more concessions until Israel agrees
to the three following terms:
-Outlining the borders would be the first topic under discussion. It would
be agreed upon within three months.
-A timeframe would be set for the evacuation of Israelis from sovereign
Palestinian territories (Israel had agreed to complete the evacuation of
Sinai within three years).
-Israel will agree to have East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
The Israelis would not agree to any of the three demands."
This is understandable, though. Any one of these demands would've caused the
Netanyahu government to collapse.
"That's true, these are very painful compromises. If you're looking for
failures - this was one of them: We couldn't confront the two sides with the
painful solutions that were required of them. The Israelis didn't have to
face the possibility of splitting Jerusalem into two capitals; they didn't
have to deal with the meaning of a full withdrawal and the end of the
Abbas refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
"We couldn't understand why it bothered him so much. For us, the Americans,
the Jewish identity of Israel is obvious. We wanted to believe that for the
Palestinians this was a tactical move - they wanted to get something (in
return) and that's why they were saying 'no.'
"The more Israel hardened its demands, the more the Palestinian refusal
deepened. Israel made this into a huge deal - a position that wouldn't
change under any circumstances. The Palestinians came to the conclusion that
Israel was pulling a nasty trick on them. They suspected there was an effort
to get from them approval of the Zionist narrative."
What was Tzipi Livni's contribution to the talks? What was Yitzhak Molcho's?
(Molcho, Netanyahu's lawyer and relative, was appointed Livni's babysitter)
"Tzipi Livni was a heroine. She fought with all of her might to promote the
agreement. Molcho was a big problem for her. He undermined her repeatedly.
Every time she tried to move forward, he stopped her."
(In these very pages in February, the secret axis Molcho started with Bassil
Akel, a former Palestinian official and a friend of Abbas, was revealed.
Akel, who lives in London, met with Molcho secretly from time to time behind
the backs of the other negotiating partners. At a certain point, Molcho
claimed that he had reached a series of understandings with Akel. These
understandings evaporated on their way to Abbas.)
The last chapter of the American initiative was borderline pathetic. Kerry
realized an agreement would not be reached. He tried to at least get an
agreement on both sides to continue the talks. The Palestinians demanded the
prisoners Kerry promised them, including Israeli-Arab murderers. Netanyahu
demanded something in return. Kerry persuaded Obama to give him Pollard.
And then came the Housing and Construction Ministry's announcement of
building tenders for more than 700 housing units in Jerusalem's Gilo
Abbas lost interest. He turned to the reconciliation talks with Hamas and to
the question of who would inherit his mantle. According to the Americans,
this is the reason for his recently launched public front against Mohammed
The Americans understood from their Israeli counterparts that the Gilo
tenders announcement was an intentional act of sabotage, one of many, by
Housing Minister Uri Ariel, an extremist who opposes any agreement with the
Palestinians. Ariel denied it. He claimed he didn't even know about the
From an American perspective, what will be the consequences of stopping the
talks? Will the threat of a boycott against Israel increase?
"It's hard to predict. The international community, especially the European
Union, avoided any action during the negotiations. Now, a race will begin to
fill the void. Israel might be facing quite a problem.
"As of now, nothing is stopping the Palestinians from turning to the
international community. The Palestinians are tired of the status quo. They
will get their state in the end - whether through violence or by turning to
"The boycott and the Palestinian application to international organizations
are medium-range problems. America will help, but there's no guarantee its
support will be enough.
"There's a bigger problem threatening Israel in the immediate future. This
is a very concrete threat. If Israel tries to impose economic sanctions on
the Palestinians, it could boomerang. The West Bank economy will collapse,
and then Abbas will say 'I don't want this anymore. Take this from me.'
There's great potential for deterioration here, which could end with the
dismantling of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli soldiers will have to
administer the lives of 2.5 million Palestinians, to their mothers' chagrin.
The donating countries will stop paying up, and the bill of $3 billion a
year will have to be paid by your Finance Ministry."
Abbas and Saeb Erekat chose to make comments about Holocaust Memorial Day
this week. They said it was the greatest crime in history. Netanyahu didn't
believe them. The right slammed Abbas with accusations that he was a
terrorist and a Holocaust denier.
They asked not to give their opinion on Netanyahu's comments. "Your extreme
right wing is very happy with the collapse of the peace talks. They won't
accept any gesture, or any positive comment from the other side."
What will the United States do now?
"We're taking a time-out to think and reevaluate. We mean to draw our own
conclusions. Kerry's willingness to return and make an effort depends on the
sides' willingness to show seriousness. Abbas' conditions were rejected out
of hand by Israel. Perhaps someone in Israel will reconsider their
positions? Why is a three-month settlement construction freeze such a big
deal? Why not draw a map? You have a great interest in an accord reached by
mutual consent, rather than one reached as a result of external pressures.
Drawing a map should've been stage one."
Will Kerry present the principles you formulated; the map, the security
arrangements, the agreement's components?
"It's still a possibility. The other possibility is a period of
In 1975, after then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin rejected the American
demands, then-secretary of state Kissinger announced a period of
reevaluation. The diplomatic and security relations between Israel and the
United States were frozen. In Israel, Rabin was hailed as a hero. The right
worshipped him. After several months, a ladder was found to allow Rabin to
climb down from the tree.
The Obama administration is soft. It's different from the Nixon
administration, as Kerry is different from Kissinger.
What kind of reevaluation will Kerry choose?
"We don't know. Kerry hasn't decided yet."
Translated from Hebrew by Yaara Shalom
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