Blame and retaliation
Hebrew media review

Blame and retaliation

Kerry lashes out, placing responsibility for the peace talk collapse on Israel; settlers destroy IDF encampment

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Secretary of State Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss his budget and the status of diplomatic hot spots. (photo credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Secretary of State Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss his budget and the status of diplomatic hot spots. (photo credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The protracted blame game surrounding peace talks that have all but collapsed has finally come to an end, after US Secretary of State John Kerry placed the fault squarely on the Israeli side in an address to Congress. Needless to say, the Israeli media is far from thrilled.

An exasperated-looking Kerry graces the front page of Haaretz, which reports that he criticized Israel for refusing to release the fourth wave of Palestinian prisoners and then approving settlement construction in southern Jerusalem, acts which helped precipitate the disintegration of peace talks.

“Israel didn’t release the prisoners and, suddenly, boom, the talks exploded,” Yedioth Ahronoth quotes Kerry saying. The paper then says “whether it was the jet lag, not getting enough sleep, or just an expression of built-up frustration, Kerry didn’t leave much room for doubt that the Israeli refusal to release the fourth wave [of prisoners] was what caused the negotiation crisis, from his perspective.”

“Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry said of Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel’s approval of 708 tenders in Gilo. “We find ourselves where we are.” His comment provokes the amusement of Israel Hayom, which refers to his address to the Senate committee as “the Poof Speech.” 

Between the three papers, none of them agree regarding the degree that Kerry blamed Israel for the collapse of talks. Haaretz says it was a cut-and-dried blaming of Jerusalem, Yedioth Ahronoth says Kerry blamed Israel “indirectly” for the collapse of talks, and Israel Hayom says the secretary of state merely “hinted” that Israel was responsible for the diplomatic crisis.

What truly evokes outrage for Yedioth Ahronoth is a settler attack on an IDF outpost near the settlement of Yitzhar, an incident it calls disgraceful. The paper reports that dozens of youths from Yitzhar attacked the army compound protecting the settlement and the soldiers stood by while they demolished the encampment. The incident followed a number of attacks on IDF property by settlers from Yitzhar and the demolishing of illegal construction by the IDF.

The settlers “poured diesel on the equipment, opened three gas tanks, tore apart two military tents, knocked over a portable toilet and destroyed the kitchen,” the paper reports. “The stunned soldiers implored the rioters not to ignite the tents because their personal belongings were inside. After a few minutes the place looked like a scene of severe vandalism.”

Haaretz’s recap of the incident makes it out as if the soldiers were unarmed and incapable of persuading the extremely polite settler kids not to demolish a military compound.

“The soldiers were awakened from their sleep and were asked to leave the tent,” it reports, without explaining how the mob approached the encampment without intercession by the guard on duty. “Several youths requested to light it on fire” — a perfectly normal thing to do. “The reservist soldiers asked them not to” — again, a normal response — “so their personal belongings won’t be burned. In a matter of five minutes the youths destroyed everything they could in the place.”

Israel Hayom reports that the IDF said it was not prepared for an attack by Jews. One of the officers involved in the incident tells the paper that the reservist soldiers, stationed at the settlement to protect it, “stood shocked and amazed when they saw that those whom they were guarding attacked them. I have equipment for riot dispersal, but the soldiers weren’t prepared for an attack by Jews.”

Another unnamed IDF source said that “there were mistakes in the behavior of the soldiers, but it didn’t occur to us that 40 settlers would destroy an IDF outpost.”

Haaretz’s op-ed calls on the Israeli authorities to take more drastic action to curb settler violence such as that exhibited recently in Yitzhar. “Whoever is concerned about the rule of law should have raised his voice long ago, taken measures against Yitzhar and other violent settlements and stopped these hooligans from taking out their anger on Palestinians,” it writes. “Those who kept quiet then, who didn’t investigate or bring anyone to trial, who looked the other way, are now getting it back in spades, in the form of violence directed at the security forces.”

“The same determination that the defense minister decided to display against the rioters in Yitzhar this time – and justifiably so – must also be displayed against settler terror when it is directed against their Palestinian neighbors. Damage to an IDF vehicle, even if it belongs to the brigade commander, is no more serious than setting fire to fields and orchards or violent attacks on human beings.”

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