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September 17, 2014

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Israelis should show Kerry gratitude

John Kerry is not the first U.S. secretary of state trying to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Nor the first to be rewarded with an angry Israeli response for his efforts.

James Baker, for one, is still perceived today as one of the secretaries most hostile to Israel. Kerry, on the other hand, has always been an ardent supporter of Israel. That he should receive a negative, even vicious, reaction from Israelis for his Herculean labors, is wrong.

The prevailing Israeli attitudes toward Kerry’s current mission are threefold. The public is by and large apathetic; the political leadership is split between giving him a cold shoulder and publicly denouncing his ambitious plan; and the settlers are virulently attacking him.

Why would the Israeli public be indifferent to Kerry’s plan for a two-state solution when in poll after poll, two out of every three Israelis support such a solution? Pollster Rafi Smith gave me the simple answer: Because they don’t believe Kerry can deliver it. Why? Because there is no credible Palestinian partner. Period.

Indeed, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ insistence on not recognizing Israel as a Jewish state leaves many Israelis doubtful whether any treaty signed now will truly be the end of the conflict. But Smith reminded me of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 (I didn’t need much reminder: I was there on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport, assigned to take care of his air crew).

When Sadat spoke in the Knesset, Smith told me, he had said harsh things about the need for Israel to pull out of all the territories gained in 1967. Yet people responded to his speech with ovations and tears of joy: His appearance in the Knesset was more important than what he had said.

Without such a gesture from the Palestinian leader, Israelis remain indifferent. In such case, however, they could have gotten a cue from their leadership about how to react to Kerry’s efforts: a signal that perhaps this is the best deal Israel can get, a reminder that if America washes its hands from the region, Europe might unleash its anti-Israeli plans, and so on.

Except that the Israeli leadership itself is lukewarm. Nobody knows what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really thinks, and most people believe that he is only buying time for his own political survival. Accepting Kerry’s plan might mean a rebellion in his rejectionist Likud party, and he is not perceived as someone capable of breaking away and forming a new party that will serve as a platform for pursuing bold policy like Ariel Sharon did before the disengagement from Gaza.

In the absence of a loud and clear message from the top, the loose cannons around Netanyahu have their free ride. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, upon learning the details of the Kerry plan, had this to say: “John Kerry must understand: It’s not going to happen.”.

According to the Israeli Arutz Sheva, Danon went on to call the proposal “dangerous and detached from reality.”

Did Danon’s boss, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, sack him on the spot? Nothing of the sort. In a private talk with Shimon Schiffer of Yediot Aharonot newspaper, Yaalon said that “the American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it’s written on. ... It contains no peace and no security.” As if this was not enough, he then added insult to injury: “The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.”

That these people — who know more than most of us how deep the American commitment to Israel’s security is — should talk like that is a disgrace.

Of course, there are differences of opinion, and when it comes to Israel’s security, Israel as a sovereign state has the right to accept or reject any plan, and take any steps necessary to defend itself, even with the risk of confrontation with the United States.

When in 1981 Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Baghdad, it was condemned by the whole world, including its U.S. ally (never mind that in 1991, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney sent a satellite photo of the destroyed reactor to General Ivry, IAF Commander in 1981, with a note: “With thanks and appreciation. You made our job easier in Desert Storm.”).

In any case, differences should be ironed out behind closed doors, with civility and perhaps with something Israelis, who have been the benefactors of American generosity for so long, obviously lack: modesty and gratefulness.

Last but not least are the settlers. As reported by Reuters, they “have lampooned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a video campaign against his troubled quest for peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.” In the YouTube clip they had produced, a buffoonish mock-Kerry describes Jerusalem as “holy to all religions: Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Klingons and Hobbits.”

That the State Department responded to this was a mistake. Israelis themselves should have condemned this ugly attack on a friend.

Surrounded by apathy, problematic leadership and quarrelsome settlers, some of us still wish Kerry success. After all, his plan is no different from the Clinton Parameters of 2000, and anyone who supports a two-state solution knows perfectly well that it will demand painful concessions.

Like a good surgeon, Kerry is telling us the truth about the operation necessary to save us from one, binational state, where Israel might either lose its democracy or its Jewish nature. We should thank him, not badmouth him. I’m glad that no other than the hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said last week that: “Kerry is true friend of Israel. Friends shouldn’t be turned into enemies.”

As I said before, John Kerry is not the first U.S. secretary of state trying to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He might, however, be the last.

Future presidents, either out of growing isolationism, or just being fed up with the troublesome Middle East, or due to a decline of the Jewish lobby, or simply having enough of the Israeli ungratefulness, might reason: If the Israelis are so smart, let them sort it out themselves.

I hope I speak for many of the Israelis, silent as they may be, who pray: Carry on, Kerry.

Uri Dromi writes about Israeli affairs for the Miami Herald.

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