White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice has hit back at Israel for criticism from government ministers concerning recent comments by Secretary of State John Kerry. In a succession of tweets sent last night, Rice was at pains to defend Kerry’s record, yet she also didn’t hold back when it came to putting Kerry’s Israeli critics in their place. In one tweet she asserted, “Personal attacks in Israel directed at Sec Kerry totally unfounded and unacceptable.” It might be tempting to read these statements as an attempt to manufacture another minor spat between the two countries–to put some daylight between the U.S. government and Israel, as some have argued was the strategy in the past. Yet, whether this is being done consciously or not, it creates a public perception so that, if and when negotiations fail, the Israeli government will be less able to direct the blame toward the Palestinians.
The alleged “personal attacks” in question focused on widespread criticism, certainly not restricted to the Israeli press or politicians, that came in response to the implicit threats that Kerry has voiced about anti-Israel boycotts. Speaking over the weekend, he had raised the possibility of an advancing boycott campaign against Israel in the event that the two sides fail to reach an agreement. In November of last year Kerry had made an even more extreme version of this implicit threat; talking about the prospect of talks failing, Kerry asked, “does Israel want a third intifada?”
If anything is “unacceptable” then it might be argued that it’s Kerry’s comments, not the backlash to them. In making these kind of remarks, Secretary Kerry may not be endorsing these moves against Israel, but he serves to legitimize them by suggesting that they are the natural response, only to be expected, if Israel won’t find a way to make a deal with the Palestinians. Indeed, one has to ask: if Kerry is serious about presenting the two sides with a fair offer then why the need for all these thinly veiled threats? If the deal genuinely offers Israel peace and security, we can be confident Israelis will jump at it. These threats would suggest Kerry knows he won’t be able to get the Palestinians to give the Israelis a fair deal, so with no carrot, it’s going to have to be all stick from here on in.
But Rice’s reaction is both suspect and telling. She has slammed the Israeli criticism that Kerry has received, but where is her response to the criticism Kerry receives from Palestinians? It’s not as if there isn’t enough of it. Senior Palestinian Authority officials regularly accuse Kerry of having a pro-Israel bias and Kerry’s visits to Ramallah are routinely met by public protests, although admittedly nothing on the scale of the Palestinian protests that greeted Obama when demonstrators trampled on pictures of the president, festooning with swastikas the billboards bearing his image. If Susan Rice was looking for a Twitter slanging match then that was quite the opportunity.
In making these comments, administration officials contribute to an atmosphere that will ultimately put Israel in the dock for the failure of the negotiation process. Talks appear to be stalling over the Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state. In every previous round of negotiations they have ended with the Palestinians walking and thus taking much of the blame for the failures of peace efforts. The administration has long been signaling that Israel better find a way to make sure the Palestinians don’t walk this time around, otherwise, this time it can expect to take the blame. By causing a stir over the backlash to Kerry’s comments, or by hyping-up their reaction to Israeli Defense Minister Yaalon’s criticism of Kerry’s strategy, the administration lays the groundwork for ensuring that Israel will be perceived internationally as the party that lacked good faith and ultimately undermined the peace process.