An Israeli newspaper is reporting that two officials close to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are quietly accusing President Barack Obama of sabotaging Middle East peace efforts after giving an interview in which he sharply criticized Israeli government policy.
The unnamed officials also claim that Kerry was never given a heads-up that the president had planned an interview with reporter Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg View – just days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington — on the subject of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Eli Bardenstein, diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Maariv, reported Wednesday that “those close to Secretary of State John Kerry claim in private conversations that President Barack Obama sabotaged Kerry’s efforts to reach agreements over the framework agreement, in the aggressive interview he gave” Goldberg.
“Maariv has learned that the White House hid even from Kerry the very existence of the interview, in a way that is unacceptable in the U.S. capital,” the Israeli reporter added.
Maariv, a right-leaning newspaper, described its sources as two unnamed officials, one American and one Israeli, both in Washington.
“The interview Obama granted, without the knowledge of Kerry, in which he attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a personal way and lashing out that goes beyond any acceptable formulation, undermines Kerry’s sincere efforts,” one source told Maariv.
The second source said, “Kerry’s big fear is that the interview harmed the trust of Netanyahu and that of Israeli public opinion in the U.S. administration’s efforts.”
Though Kerry allegedly wasn’t aware of the interview, Maariv’s unnamed D.C. sources speculated that Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett took an active part in arranging the Bloomberg interview.
One unnamed source told the paper, “It’s possible that Obama wasn’t fully up to date on the special cooperation that Kerry had achieved with Netanyahu and his team with the Israeli team. It’s also possible he ignored it.”
In the interview, published Sunday, Obama warned Israel of a bleak future characterized by international isolation and less security were Netanyahu not to agree to the proposed framework agreement with the Palestinians which Kerry has been formulating.
Obama suggested that time was running out for Israel to agree to a deal or face international isolation, which Goldberg interpreted as “a veiled threat.”
While Obama called the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security “rock solid,” he added: “But what I do believe is that if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time — if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
Maariv reported that those close to the Israeli prime minister were perplexed as to why Obama chose to criticize Netanyahu so sharply in the interview that was published just one day before a meeting between the two at the White House.
Bardenstein quoted unnamed Israeli officials who characterized Obama’s remarks as a “strategic surprise” and said that Obama “again prepared a Netanyahu ambush.”
That sentiment was reflected in an op-ed by Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz who called the Obama interview a “battering.”
“The timing could not have been any more deliberate — an assault on the prime minister’s policies delivered precisely as Netanyahu was flying in to meet with him, and on the first day, too, of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual tour de force conference across town,” Horovitz wrote. “At the very least, that might be considered bad manners, poor diplomatic protocol, a resounding preemptive slap in the face: I’ve just told the world you’re leading your country to wrack and ruin, Mr. Prime Minister. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”