By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The indiscrete and disparaging comments about John Kerry’s endeavor to bring peace to Palestinians and Israelis, and about Kerry as a person, by Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s minister of defense, did a lot of damage to US-Israel relations. It was tellingly reflected in the angry reactions from the White House and from the State Department, even though Kerry himself was gracious and statesman-like.
The apology extracted from Ya’alon, allegedly after a two-hour session with Prime Minister Netanyahu, was less than persuasive, which suggests (a) that Ya’alon wants the world to know what he thinks, whatever the consequences (he didn’t retract what he said, only that he’s sorry if Kerry was offended by what he said…) and (b) that Netanyahu is either unwilling or unable or both to sufficiently distance himself from Ya’alon. The prime minister’s statement on the subject was vague: it didn’t address the matter but only the manner of Ya’alon’s leaked reflections.
I’m reliably informed that neither the prime minister nor the minister of defense can be said to have apologized in an acceptable way. It seems that Netanyahu may be more interested in keeping his coalition partner Naftali Bennett and his hawks-infested Likud party satisfied than to have good relations with Israel’s most important ally.
Had Netanyahu thought differently or felt sufficiently confident, he should have demanded Ya’alon’s resignation or at least given him an insignificant portfolio instead of the powerful one he now holds. (Prime Minister Sharon fired Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon when the latter disagreed with him about the Gaza withdrawal, even though he was a very popular and by all accounts competent general.)
Ari Shavit’s column in Ha’aretz reminds readers how serious the matter is. Shavit points out that at present Israel isn’t under military threat from its neighbors: they each have their own internal problems. (In fact, the Egyptian army which is about to continue to run the country, is anxious to cooperate with Israel, especially about eradicating Hamas, which is the Muslim Brotherhood under another name.)
What’s essential for Israel – perhaps even for its very survival – is the relationship with the United States: that’s why offending the US secretary of state is bad news. In fact, the relationship is so important to Israel that it should seriously consider making unpalatable concessions in order to vindicate Kerry’s peace efforts, not to call him names, as Ya’alon had done.
It’s, of course, not the first time that the prime minister of Israel is something of a persona non grata in the White House; the memoir of Robert Gates is said to be the latest indicator of it. Until now, however, Netanyahu could afford to needle Obama because he knew that a majority in Congress would be on Israel’s side, partly out of commitment to Israel and even more out of animus to the president.
But is that a good enough basis for Israeli statecraft in view of its utter dependence on the United States? The Israeli ultra-nationalists who may think otherwise are probably deluding themselves. In defending the ostensible notional independence of Israel and its leaders they’re risking infinitely more.
Prudence requires that Israel makes nice with Uncle Sam because, whether we like it or not, Israel can’t manage without his goodies and his goodwill.