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Leaked Cables on Israel: Israeli PM Netanyahu Frustrated with Abbas and Peace Process

(December 18, 2009)

Classified U.S. diplomatic cables, leaked by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, contained details of a December 14, 2009, meeting with U.S. Senate staff members and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's Director for Policy Planning Ron Dermer in which he expressed frustration with the peace process and said that Netanyahu's patience with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had "run out" and the Government of Israel would not make any more concessions.

18 December 2009
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 002734
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2019
Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Marc Sievers, reasons 1.4 (b),(d)

1. (S) Summary: During a December 14 meeting with Senate staff members (Michael Kuiken, Senate Armed Services Committee, and Perry Cammack, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations), the Prime Minister's Director for Policy Planning Ron Dermer confirmed a solid U.S.-Israeli relationship that weathered a "rocky start" following the transition to new administrations in both countries. He argued that the international environment has changed in favor of pursuing a pressure track with Iran; tougher sanctions combined with continued domestic pressure within Iran might bring about change in Tehran. He expressed frustration with the peace process, noting that the GOI has taken steps in the effort to convince Abu Mazen to return to the negotiating table to no avail. Dermer said PM Netanyahu's patience has "run out," and that the GOI will make no more concessions in that regard -- it is time for Abu Mazen to "be a leader." End summary.

U.S.-Israeli Relations ----------------------

2. (S) Dermer described U.S.-Israeli relations as good and improving, but acknowledged that the relationship between the new Obama and Netanyahu administrations got off to a "rough, rocky start." He noted that changes in administrations in both countries at nearly the same time were "relatively rare" -- both entered office and started formulating policy based on electoral mandates representing change from the previous administrations. Dermer said that the United States and Israel agree on so many things; when an issue of disagreement arises, the media tends to disproportionally accentuate the disagreement -- as was the case earlier in the year on settlements.

3. (S) Since this disagreement, Dermer said relations between the two administrations have improved daily, and were "only getting stronger." He noted greater U.S.-Israeli cooperation and coordination, especially with regard to confronting Iran and its attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. Dermer said that President Obama does not get enough credit in Israel for weighing in helpfully on several issues affecting Israel's security, such as the Goldstone Report, problems in the Turkey-Israel relations, and the recent EU Council statement on East Jerusalem. He also cited the successful Juniper Cobra joint missile defense exercise hosted by Israel in November 2009.

Iran ----

4. (S) Dermer said there was "great understanding" between President Obama and PM Netanyahu on Iran during their first meeting in May 2009. Since then, several events related to Iran have helped changed the international community's view on Iran: the Iranian elections and the regime's subsequent crackdown, the discovery of the Qom enrichment facility, and Iran's refusal of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) proposal. Dermer noted that PM Netanyahu has been quite vocal on Iran over the last 15 years; as the PM's communications advisor, Dermer said he is often asked why Netanyahu has not spoken out against Tehran recently. Dermer described the PM's uncharacteristic public reticence as a strategic decision to give the United States a chance to succeed and not undermine the engagement process.

5. (S) Dermer suggested that the "stars are aligning" in favor of putting more pressure on Iran. He described the upcoming French UNSC presidency as positive, while the GOI was pleased to see the Swedish EU presidency come to an end. Dermer said the trick was to convince Tehran that the continued pursuit of its weapons program would cause the regime's downfall, and that Russia remains the key on sanctions.

6. (S) Dermer acknowledged disparate voices within the GOI on strategy regarding Iran, but added that PM Netanyahu favored tough economic sanctions combined with support for internal democratic dissent. Dermer compared Iran to the former Soviet Union, in which experts were shocked by its internal fragility and subsequent sudden collapse. The assumption is that Iran is powerful, he said, but internal dissent coupled with constant external pressure could lead to the fall of the regime. He noted the importance of finding Iran's "Achilles heel" to apply pressure on the regime -- perhaps through Iran's lack of oil refinery infrastructure. Dermer also said that PM Netanyahu was impressed with the recent efforts by Senators Brownback and Specter to secure funding to provide all-source, uncensored internet access to peoples living under repressive regimes.

Peace Process -------------

7. (S) Dermer noted that the GOI has taken a number of steps in the effort to jump-start the peace process with the Palestinians, but to no avail -- as a result, Netanyahu's patience has "run out," he said. Dermer noted progress on West Bank checkpoints and outpost evacuations, Netanyahu's acceptance of the two-state solution during his June 2009 Bar Ilan speech, allowing "violent" individuals into the West Bank to attend the Fatah party congress, and the recent settlement moratorium. He claimed that 70 percent of the Israeli public opposes the moratorium (note: we think this is an exaggeration) -- this was a difficult decision for Netanyahu, but one he decided to make to restart negotiations.

8. (S) Dermer lamented the lack of a partner on the Palestinian side to pursue negotiations. He pointed to an interview Abu Mazen gave to The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl six months ago in which Abu Mazen implied he would "sit back and wait" for the United States to deliver Israel to the negotiating table. Dermer accused Abu Mazen of trying to internationalize the conflict, which he described as a "big mistake." The GOI understands Abu Mazen's political constraints and lack of support from Arab regional partners -- but at the end of the day, Abu Mazen must "be a leader," Dermer said.

9. (S) Dermer noted that there will come a point readily apparent to the GOI in which the settlement freeze offers diminishing returns. He said the steps or "concessions" the GOI has taken thus far have been devalued because they were made outside the context of negotiations -- "give us context," he said. In that regard, Dermer stated categorically that the GOI will not make any more concessions to Abu Mazen in order to return to negotiations -- "that is over." He asked what steps the PA has taken to return to the negotiating table, and dismissed Palestinian progress in the security sector as simply efforts to preserve Fatah's power.

10. (S) Dermer said that while Netanyahu is ready to engage at any time, the Israeli public is skeptical regarding the benefits of returning to negotiations with the Palestinians. He noted that it would be "extremely difficult" for Netanyahu to approach the Cabinet at this point regarding negotiations when all the GOI has received in return for its efforts was a "slap-down from the international community" following the Goldstone Report.

11. (S) Dermer said Netanyahu does not believe Abu Mazen is as weak as he claims, and that Abu Mazen has the potential to "rise to the occasion" in negotiating peace. However, he said Abu Mazen must make some sort of gesture to return to the table and "prepare his people" for the difficult decisions necessary for peace. Seemingly simple steps such as employing new language or condemning violence and terrorism -- something the GOI believes Abu Mazen has not done since 2003 -- would be very appreciated, Dermer said.

12. (U) The staffdel cleared this cable. CUNNINGHAM

Sources: Wikileaks