John Kerry’s new book details his relationship with Bibi
An exclusive sneak peek at former Secretary of State John Kerry’s upcoming book titled Every Day Is Extra.
In the book set to be released on September 4, a copy of which was obtained by Jewish Insider, Kerry writes about the failed Middle East peace initiative he undertook after becoming Secretary of State, what drove his optimism that he would succeed in solving final status issues, how both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas failed to live up to expectations, and why the Obama administration decided to abstain at the UN Security Council on UNSC 2334 in December of 2016.
Pragmatic Bibi: “What I found most promising was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence to me personally that he was willing to take risks, willing even to put his government coalition at risk, to make peace if his conditions are met.” These conversations, going back years, helped Kerry convince a ‘skeptical’ President Obama that it was worth trying to reinvigorate the peace process and put Netanyahu’s “willingness to make tough compromises” to the test.
Kerry recalls Netanyahu agreeing to release pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners to pave a way for the resumption of peace talks for 9 months after issuing an ultimatum. “I told Bibi in no uncertain terms, ‘If you’re not willing to release them, I understand — but this won’t work and I’m done with it.’ When he was confronted with this deadline, for the first time, he said, ‘Okay, let me see what I can do.’”
Bibi’s high bar: “Bibi’s attitude was ‘I’m open to solving this problem if I can have all my needs met.’ That included his political needs with his coalition… Bibi was fond of saying, ‘Take all my excuses away.’ Kerry contrasts these comments to the conversations he had with Tzipi Livni, a minister in Netanyahu’s government and now Israel’s Opposition Leader, in which she expressed Israel’s need to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all.
Kerry recounts a conversation he had with Netanyahu following President Obama’s speech to the Israeli public during his visit to Israel in 2013: “A few days later, I met with Bibi at the King David Hotel. He looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘John, I’m willing to give this effort a try, but there are two things you should know: first, everyone in this region lies all the time and you Americans have a hard time understanding that; second, the most I can do may be less than the least Abbas could ever accept.’ That statement really stayed with me. Bibi was raising the bar, perhaps impossibly.”
How Bibi rejected Gen. John Allen’s security plan: Kerry describes in detail the plan that was presented to Israel’s then-Defense Minister Moshe Bogie Ya’alon, which included U.S. troops on the border of a future Palestinian state and Israeli troops in close proximity after a gradual withdrawal from the West Bank, ready to return “in full force within hours” if any threat emerged. But on the morning after the meeting between Kerry, Gen. Allen and the Israeli leaders, Netanyahu insisted that the IDF must maintain a long-term presence in the West Bank, the duration of which would be decided unilaterally by Israel.
“It was now clear to all of us that Bibi was not interested in actually addressing the security questions in a way that could allow for the eventual withdrawal of the IDF,” Kerry writes. “I concluded that this wasn’t about security. I wondered what Bogie Ya’alon had said to Bibi the night after we’d left… I let him know I thought he was creating an insurmountable stumbling block if he couldn’t accept the best advice of one of his ally’s most brilliant military minds. He smiled and said we’d table the discussion for now.”
The Pollard-for-peace deal: In 2014, the Obama administration considered releasing Jonathan Pollard to save the peace talks. Obama was very skeptical about releasing Pollard because he didn’t believe Netanyahu was serious about creating a Palestinian state. But he didn’t rule it out, according to Kerry, “I think more because he wanted to support me and his team than because he had any confidence Bibi would follow through.” Netanyahu, he writes, was urged to come up with a credible offer to convince Obama it was worth releasing Pollard and convince the Palestinians to agree for the extension of peace talks. “I told Bibi point-blank, ‘You’re not doing this for Abbas. You’re doing it to empower us to get what you want.’” In the end, it was Abbas who foiled the deal by announcing he was going to join several international organizations and violating the terms agreed upon with the Israelis. The move gave Netanyahu the “ammunition” he needed to blame the Palestinians for rejecting peace.
On President Obama’s decision not to veto UNSC 2334 in December of 2016: “We all understood the political firestorm we would face if we didn’t veto the resolution… There were some who argued for sucking it up because it wasn’t worth the political price. President Obama wasn’t willing to make a decision that he thought was counter to U.S. interests simply because of the politics.”
— Kerry suggests that Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel impelled Obama to act: “President-elect Trump had announced he was going to appoint an ambassador to Israel who was a hard-core proponent of the settlements and an avowed opponent of the two-state solution. At the same time, the Israelis had shown themselves to be completely disdainful of our policy by starting a process of formally legalizing outposts… We could not defend in the UN Israeli actions that amounted to a massive and unprecedented acceleration of the settlement enterprise.”
Kerry writes that following fierce Israeli criticism, he felt the need the respond, receiving Obama’s backing for a speech he later delivered at the State Department: “I remember sitting with former undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman in my office with a draft of the speech I was planning to give about the resolution. Wendy and I both have strong ties to the Jewish community. She reminded me of what we both understood: ‘Mr. Secretary, If you give this speech, you’re going to lose some friends.’ I looked out of the window of my office over the Mall in Washington and said to Wendy, ‘I understand that. But I have done a number of things in my life because I thought it was the right thing, not because it was easy.’”
OTHER NOTABLE HIGHLIGHTS — Kerry acknowledged that the warm reception President Obama received when he visited Israel in March of 2013 “made the White House wish the president had traveled there during his first term.”
— Kerry on meeting with Netanyahu after the FAA suspended flightsto Israel during Operation Protective Edge: “It was the few times I saw Bibi very subdued, absent his normal energy and bravado. To see the leader of Israel under siege like that really touched me… I saw Bibi in that moment more vulnerable than I’d ever seen him before.”
When Kerry accused Netanyahu of leaking a confidential draft of a ceasefire deal with Hamas: “We were in the middle of negotiating it based on your input. Now I see it in the press? This is outrageous,” Kerry told Bibi in a phone call. “The humanitarian cease-fire was your idea. And now you leak this document to make it sound like I am trying to advance Hamas’s position?” An “element of personal trust had been lost,” Kerry writes.
Kerry on Bibi’s 2015 speech to Congress: “As an unwavering supporter of Israel who always viewed my differences with Bibi through a political, not personal lens, I was disappointed in him… I thought we deserved better than a speech that hit below the belt.”
Kerry on the Iran nuclear deal: “We always maintained our ability to bomb Iran if they didn’t comply.”
When Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif almost blew up the Iran deal: “This is insulting. You’re trying to threaten me!” he exclaimed, getting up to leave. “Never threaten an Iranian.” A brief silence followed, before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov broke the tension: “Or a Russian!” [Simon&Schuster]