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Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon must go

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Accusing 70-year-old Secretary of State John Kerry of an obsession with Mideast peacemaking, 63-year-old Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon proved he’s not fit for duty. Kerry’s shuttled to Israel and the Palestinian territories 10 times since the White House revived the moribund peace process July 5, 2013. Whatever the truth or ultimate merits of Yaalon’s remarks, accusing Kerry of a “messianic” mission for a Nobel Peace Prize, shows his poor judgment, disqualifying him from representing the state of Israel in any official capacity. Suggesting that Kerry has a “sense of messianism” shows just how far Yaalon went off the rails. Disagreeing with Kerry about the expectations, demands and ultimate concessions is one thing. Accusing the U.S. Secretary of State of a self-serving agenda goes over the top. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney condemned Yaalon’s remarks as “offensive.”

Whatever delicate stage the peace talks are at, it doesn’t help matters when a staunch U.S. ally makes disparaging comments. “The defense minister had no intention of cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister,” said Yaalon’s office, expressing gratitude for Kerry’s hard work. Whatever the differences with the U.S. on a Palestinian peace deal, 64-year-old Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to replace Yaalon, not because he offended Kerry but because he shows such bad judgment. When Yaalon questioned Kerry’s motives, he really questioned President Barack Obama, who’s been accused by American conservatives as pro-Palestinian. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Jan. 9, that whatever Kerry’s efforts, that there will be no peace without Palestinians getting East Jerusalem.

Yaalon, who’s served as Netanyahu’s Vice Prime Minister before becoming Defense Minister in 2013, was actively involved in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1982 Lebanon War, 1982-2000 South Lebanon Conflict and both Palestinian Intifadas or uprisings. As a member of the Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party, Yaalon believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are legitimate and necessary to Israeli’s survival. “The Americans have marked Yaalon as a possible obstacle to reaching a peace agreement,” wrote Nadav Eyal in Maariv newspaper, showing how little he knows about the American conservatives. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blanketed Kerry to the Mideast to keep him from pressuring Israel. Showing how peacemaking is a thankless task, Kerry saw anti-U.S. protests in Ramallah, seeing him as pro-Israel.

When conservative Cabinet ministers like Yaalon or street protesters in Ramallah all protest against peacemaking, you know Kerry’s on the right track. Whether or not peace ever happens, at least Kerry’s asking both sides to make the sacrifices needed for peace. At state now are the final status agreement between Israel and a new independent Palestinian state. Abbas now demanding East Jerusalem or nothing presents far bigger problem for Kerry than Yaalon. Yaalon’s politically incorrect remarks expose real complications for a mutually satisfying Mideast peace. U.S. and Israeli conservatives see no advantages in ceding more territory to a new Palestinian state that compromises Israeli national security. Yaalon objects to Kerry’s pressure to make more land-for-peace concessions, when they haven’t worked in the past. Conservatives don’t want to send U.S. troops to defend Israel with a bad deal.

Yaalon’s problems reflect his bereft PR skills, a necessary evil in the world of instantaneous global communications. Bashing Kerry in public reflects poorly on Yaalon’s fitness to serve a high profile Cabinet post like defense minister. “The problem isn’t what Yaalon said about the peace talks. The problem is Yaalon’s personal attack” on Kerry, Eyal concluded in his op-ed. No one disputes that there are serious flaws in the latest incarnation of peace talks, especially the fact that Palestinians are divided between Hamas in Gaza and Abbas in Ramallah. If Abbas bypasses Hamas and strikes a deal with Israel, it could spell an active Palestinian civil war. Given Hamas’ history with Israel, it’s doubtful they’ll ever accept any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Hamas makes no bones of their ongoing “war of resistance” with Israel and commitment to destroy the Jewish State.

Netanyahu must now show some spine and replace Yaalon with someone who knows the PR ropes. No one earned the hard way more than 55-year-old Israeli Foreign Minsiter Avidgdor who made politically incorrect pro-settler statements until settling down in Netanyahu’s Cabinet. Liberman chided Yaalon publicly saying there was “no place for lashing out personally.” Israel’s left-leaning newspaper Haaretz harshly criticized Yaalon. “It is difficult to assess the damage caused by Defense Minister Yaalon’s disgraceful, mocking and arrogant comments,” wrote diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid. Despite all the hubbub, U.S.-Israeli relations run deeper than one ballistic Cabinet minister. What Kerry and the State Department must fathom are the unrealistic demands on both sides that make peace impossible. Yaalon’s public remarks beg Netanyahu for early retirement.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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