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Latest news from Jerusalem – Israel ‘deeply disappointed’ with Kerry’s ‘poof speech’.

‘Poof’ — Kerry blames Israel for breakdown of talks

WASHINGTON (Mondoweiss/NY Times) — This is all over the wires, and it might be historic. John Kerry, Secretary of State, blamed the Israelis for the breakdown of peace talks during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. Israel failed to release prisoners on time according to a deal it had with Palestinians, then announced 700 settlement units- “poof!”- causing the latest breakdown in the talks, Kerry said.

The Times had the story hours ago: “Israeli Settlement Plan Derails Peace Talks, Kerry Says.”

The State Department has already sought to cover for Kerry, saying he meant that both sides are to blame.

Here’s some of the exchange, at 1:17:00 or so at this link. Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, blames the Palestinians for unilateral actions in seeking recognition before international bodies and refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

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For those who suspect that the Middle East peace process has become a diplomatic drama, playing on an endless loop, Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could serve as Exhibit A.

Explaining to the senators why his latest efforts to bring together the Israelis and the Palestinians had almost broken down last week, Mr. Kerry could have been channeling Secretary of State James A. Baker III when he explained a similar impasse to House members 24 years ago.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, the precipitating event, he said, was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. That came three days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners, and it undercut an emerging deal to extend the negotiations.

“Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Mr. Kerry said. “We find ourselves where we are.”

Continued below the fold …

“I hope the parties will find a way back,” he added. “But, you know, we have an enormous amount on our plate.” Mr. Kerry warned that there were limits to the time that he and President Obama would devote to the peace process, “given the rest of the agenda, if they’re not prepared to commit to actually be there in a serious way.”

Apr. 8, 2014: Secretary Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Capitol Hill.
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Rewind to June 13, 1990: Mr. Baker, fed up after his own diplomatic efforts, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that if Israel’s right-wing government did not ease its conditions for talks with the Palestinians, there would be no progress. He was also incensed that Israel’s defense minister had visited two Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in what he later called a symbolic rebuff to the United States.

“Unless all sides tempered their inflexibility,” Mr. Baker wrote in his 1995 memoir, “The Politics of Diplomacy,” “I said, ‘There won’t be any dialogue, and there won’t be any peace, and the United States of America can’t make it happen.'” Lest anyone in the Israeli government not get the message, Mr. Baker added: “Everybody over there should know that the telephone number is 1-202-456-1414. When you’re serious about peace, call us.” That number, then as now, is for the White House switchboard.

There are important differences between the two secretaries of state, starting with the fact that Mr. Baker was genuinely ready to walk away. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait two months after the House hearing gave him a perfect reason to put the peace talks on the back burner.

Mr. Kerry, on the other hand, appears determined to keep the process alive. Even now, he noted, the Israelis and the Palestinians are talking, with the United States acting as a broker. If the two sides can get past the dispute over the Israeli prisoner release, he said, they can return to substantive negotiations for a peace accord.

“Why is this moment different?” he asked as the senators listened with evident skepticism. “Because at the back end, the consequences are more stark and clear than they’ve been before, and there’s less space for mistakes. So we hope they’ll make it.”

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Bipartisan critics pan Kerry on foreign policy

WASHINGTON (AP/Times of Israel) — Secretary of State John Kerry pushed back against withering criticism by Republicans and some fellow Democrats, defending the Obama administration’s response to an emboldened Russia, nuclear talks with Iran and the Syrian civil war.

Defiant before the committee he once chaired, Kerry dismissed arguments that his globe-trotting attempts to broker a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians was a futile exercise and that the US has been ineffective in ending the three-year civil war in Syria.

Republicans seized on President Vladimir Putin’s bold moves in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula last month as further signs of an Obama administration policy “spinning out of control” as Sen. Jim Risch, a Republican, described it. McCain reminded Kerry that President Theodore Roosevelt had adopted the tenet to speak softly and carry a big stick.

“What you’re doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick; in fact, a twig,” McCain said.

Kerry rejected McCain’s “premature judgment about the failure of everything,” and reminded his fellow Vietnam veteran that the peace talks to end that war took years with months debating the shape of the negotiating table. Diplomacy is a far better option than the alternative of war, the secretary said.

“Your friend, Teddy Roosevelt, also said that the credit belongs to the people who are in the arena who are trying to get things done, and we’re trying to get something done,” Kerry told McCain.

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