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Kerry's apartheid gaffe on Israel underscores a relationship in decline

Friends at a crossroads
Friends at a crossroadsReuters

When Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel risked becoming an apartheid state without a peace deal with the Palestinians, the backlash was so swift and bipartisan that he later backtracked. Kerry's gaffe, though, is merely the latest setback in America's relationship with its closest ally in the Middle East.

When President Obama first took office, he made achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians a major goal. His relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, is icy at best. The first major setback in the America-Israeli relationship occurred in March 2010 when Israel announced it would continue to build 1,600 new homes that were already under construction in the East Jerusalem over strenuous objections by the United States. This was considered the most serious conflict between the two allies in decades and Obama was so livid that he snubbed Netanyahu while hosting him at the White House.

The next major conflict occurred when Obama made a foreign policy speech in which he called for a return to the pre-1967 Israeli borders with mutually agreed land swaps. Netanyahu strongly objected to these remarks and Republicans charged that Obama was breaking long-standing U.S. policy by calling for Israel to withdraw to its borders pre-1967. Obama clarified that mutually agreed swaps would mean that Israelis and Palestinians would negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967 and argued that this would allow the parties to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.

Iran has also been a sharp point of disagreement between the nations and this was exacerbated by the Geneva interim agreement with Iran. The deal consists of the short-term freezing of key parts of the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for a decrease in sanctions, as both sides work towards a long-term agreement.. Netanyahu called the agreement a historic mistake and the Jerusalem Post questioned whether Netanyahu would "place Israel's security in the hands of US guarantees."

America and Israel have disagreed in the past, but it is difficult to remember a time when relations between the two countries were this sour. When allies cannot get along, it only leaves them more vulnerable to their enemies.