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April 4, 2014 2:18 pm

Former Israeli Ambassador Pins Dead Peace Process on American Wishful Thinking, Says Kerry ‘Smothered in a Middle East Sandstorm’ (INTERVIEW)

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Former Israel Ambassador Yoram Ettinger.

Former Israel Ambassador Yoram Ettinger.

Yoram Ettinger, the former Israeli Ambassador for U.S. Congressional Affairs, on Thursday had harsh words for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who he said has ignored the lessons of history in favor of “wishful thinking.”

Hitting at the heart of Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and informed by his years as Israel’s Consul General in Houston, Texas, Ettinger told The Algemeiner in an interview that Kerry’s refusal to acknowledge the historical facts and realities of the Middle East left America’s top diplomat “smothered in a Middle East sandstorm.”

Ettinger said the Obama administration’s “Palestine Firster” mentality was what doomed the nine months of peace talks that collapsed this week between the internationally recognized Jewish state and a group Ettinger insists still be referred to as the PLO, with all of the connotations those initials recall of its long terrorist roots, and showing how far the world is from in its “mistaken conventional wisdom” of a ‘Palestinian Authority’ prepared to govern responsibly beside Israel.

He pointed to the common misunderstanding of the role of the United Nations, where Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has already launched his next battle, but Ettinger was confident that the powerful, though under-appreciated, role of the U.S. Congress in foreign affairs would allow Israel’s position to prevail.

“The ‘Palestine Firsters’ are those who believe that this is the center of everything,” Ettinger told The Algemeiner. “It’s part of an overall worldview – these are the same people who also believe that the UN is the quarterback of international relations. The UN assumes that the Palestinian issue is the center, so if the quarterback is telling you that the entire game plan has to be based on the Palestinian issue, you go with the quarterback.”

“They genuinely believe an Israeli concession — the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria — is going to do the trick, and thereby they ignore the roughly 100 years of conflict that sends a very clear message to the contrary.”

“In the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s, during the pogroms of those years, there was no independent Jewish state. There was no ‘Israeli occupation’, but still there was a war on the Jewish communities in the land of Israel,” he said. “Until 1967, Israel was not in Judea and Samaria, or Gaza.”

That begs the question: If history shows that war predated the “occupation,” how could the “occupation” be the cause of the war?

“And the same thing with the ‘settlements,'” Ettinger said.

“The lesson is very clear. The Palestinian war on Israel is not due to Israel’s policy or Israel’s size. It has to do with the existence of the Jewish state, which leads to the most fundamental misperception and error here.”

Rather than looking toward history or understanding how religion impacts decision making in the Middle East, because those concepts are too complicated to paint a simple picture, Ettinger said the U.S. sees every question through the lens of secular nationalism that can be swayed with the capitalist’s carrot of throwing money at the problem. In this case, Kerry offered $4 billion of aid to the PA to reach a deal.

If it were about money, the oil producing Arab states could come up with even more, he said; “that’s petty cash for them.”

The other tack the U.S. took in the peace talks was to insist on “Palestinian human rights,” with the notion of any group of people being able to choose their destiny through free, frequent and fair elections. But in that case, asked Ettinger, how could Kerry invite Abbas to the table, when he was elected for a four-year term, 10 years ago? Rather than nine months of fruitless negotiations, wouldn’t Kerry’s time have been better spent pursuing “Palestinian human rights” by demanding those people, too, have the chance to choose their destiny through a democratic election?

In Ettinger’s view, rather than face any of the underlying issues, the U.S. approach was to focus on multi-lateral and multi-national ways of solving problems, ultimately accepting the world view of the UN, where Israel’s enemies imagine that the Jewish state is the world’s leading tyranny against human rights.

“You have a world view of [U.S. President Barack] Obama — John Kerry’s is basically Obama’s, Obama calls the shots,” he said. “They are determined to subordinate reality to that world view, irrespective of the fact that the world view has nothing to do with the reality, and that’s typical of John Kerry’s speech, which is replete with the word ‘imagine.'”

“‘Imagine what would happen if?’ And ‘imagine’, and ‘imagine’, and ‘imagine’, and ‘imagine’…”

“And you wonder, why is the supposed architect of foreign policy dealing with imagination rather than reality?

“He is assuming you can coerce reality to be subordinated to wishful thinking, to whims.”

“Again, it goes back to John Kerry,” he said. “This is the same John Kerry, together with [Defense Secretary] Chuck Hagel and [former Secretary of State] Hilary Clinton, who belonged to a very small club in the U.S. Senate which referred to [Syrian President] Bashar al Assad as a ‘constructive’, ‘reformist’, ‘potentially peaceful’ leader of Syria, this is before the civil war in Syria that has claimed 150,000 Syrian lives.”

“By the way, John Kerry had the same attitude toward Hafez al Assad, also, proclaimed him to be a ‘constructive leader’, and therefore one should not be surprised that he focuses on the wrong items when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

When the U.S. declines to act against Syria for completely abrogating the human rights of Syrians, even after two generations of brutal dictatorships, Ettinger wanted to know why Kerry “imagines” that what’s happening in Israel is somehow more urgent than the hundreds of thousands of Arabs dying in various levels of civil war across the Middle East.

As he thought of the appropriate analogy to express his exasperation with the U.S. Secretary of State, Ettinger, dressed in a suit and black snakeskin cowboy boots, admitted his fondness for Texans and their sensibilities.

I spent years in Texas, as an undergraduate and then as Consul General, and I now visit Texas sometimes four times a year, and there is a Texan colloquialism: When you drive in West Texas, and you’re smothered by a lethal West Texas sandstorm, don’t be pre-occupied by the tumbleweeds on the road.”

“So, here is John Kerry, driving in the Middle East, and he’s smothered by a Libyan sandstorm, by a Tunisian sandstorm, by an Egyptian sandstorm, by a Syrian sandstorm, a Yemenite sandstorm, an Iranian sandstorm, and an Islamic terrorist sandstorm, and what is he doing?”

“Focusing on the Palestinian tumbleweed on the road, which could face him with a very, very lethal fate. Because when you don’t focus on the sandstorm, you may be thrown off the road. And, unfortunately, this is exactly what John Kerry is doing right now in the Middle East.”

“This is Kerry’s 12th or the 13th visit to Ramallah and Jerusalem,” Ettinger said, throwing up his hands, baffled.

Rather than focus on the external forces that Israel cannot change, Ettinger’s approach is to focus on the areas where Israel, and Israelis, can make a difference, constructively, and independently of the “whims” of the world powers.

Retired from the foreign ministry for two decades, Ettinger, a former journalist, publisher and communications expert, now runs a foundation, ‘Second Thought,’ which provides lectures and material to help re-write myths about the Middle East with fresh thinking, aiming to replace the “conventional wisdom” with knowledge based on fact and history. There are two areas, specifically, where his expertise is adding tremendous value to the debate.

The first, which is the topic of his current lecture tour at Jewish organizations across the U.S. this month, is the truth behind the so-called demographic threat. Using real Israeli census data, rather than just conventional wisdom, Ettinger debunks the “myth” that Jews could become a minority within Israel.

In fact, Ettinger’s research contends that not only do the real numbers show the opposite is happening, but that all the anecdotes used to support the “conventional wisdom” are also wrong. In his presentation, Ettinger says that those “Yuppy Jews” in secular Tel Aviv now, and for more than a decade, have taken on their patriotic duty to bear more children than ever before. Meanwhile, the supposedly sky high Arab birth rate has fallen far behind, as young Arabs grapple with the common woes of entering the middle class, not bearing children.

His hard numbers (see below) have made many Israel supporters “sleep easy,” as one said, Ettinger recites many anecdotes of his own personal meetings with young Arabs he “interviews” in gas stations and cafes as he travels around Israel. Members of his audience at a presentation this week were surprised to learn that rather than spurning formal education, many live in towns with near-full high school participation, attend community colleges (mostly, the men) and universities (usually, the women, the better students in the Arab world) and how they repeat the tropes familiar in today’s America, where “maybe one child, maybe two, but definitely after my education, after I get a good job, buy a house, much later in life,” Ettinger said he is told frequently by Arabs today.

Ettinger’s other specialty is interpreting U.S. policy towards Israel. Rather than exclusively believing that what’s being said by the Executive Branch will come to pass in the Middle East, he looks towards Congress, in light of his experience on Capitol Hill, where he returns on each trip to stay current with the contacts he built when stationed at the Israeli Embassy, as an Ambassador whose portfolio was, simply, all of Congress. In some ways, Ettinger’s role was to be a one-man Israel lobby.

It is with a great understanding of how the U.S. Congress functions that he feels the “PLO’s” fallback position of haranguing the UN into validating its claims against Israel will certainly backfire.

“There are some people who assume that the PLO could be granted a ‘state’ status by the UN and the international organizations would then be much more vindictive towards Israel,” Ettinger said. “This is because the vast, vast, vast majority of people, policy makers, definitely in Israel, but also in the U.S., are not familiar with the power of the U.S. Congress to set the agenda here.”

“Namely, while the President or the Secretary of State may want to punish Israel to facilitate the emergence of the Palestinian state, this is not the position of the overwhelming majority on Capitol Hill. And, I am certain that if the legislators would be approached by constituents with their requests to deny the Palestinians adequate support, and to exercise the veto at the UN Security Council, the U.S. can do it.”

“The American President cannot ignore Congress,” Ettinger said. “Congress usually is reluctant to get involved in foreign policy and national security decisions unless it’s a consensus issue, unless it’s a common denominator issue, unless it’s an issue which benefits from the support of vast majority of the population,” he said. In other words, Congress’s support of Israel is strong. In fact, all but one member of Congress voted to enhance the U.S.-Israel relationship, not work to minimize or destroy it.

“It’s time, I believe, for Israel and its supporters to realize that Congress is not a backseat driver when it comes to foreign or national security policy,” he said.

“Congress can defund foreign aid to the PLO; Congress can suspend foreign aid; Congress can suspend appropriations to the international organizations and UN agencies and that would make it extremely difficult and impossible to reward the PLO,” he said. “Because my assumption is that UN agencies and international organizations would not want to ‘cut their nose to spite their face’ knowing that once they support the PLO they’re going to be denied U.S. financial support which is the biggest chunk of their budget.”

Like his work to debunk conventional wisdom of the “demographic time-bomb,” Ettinger “absolutely” sees a UN gambit as another “false threat.”

But he also points to the power of the “false threat” as a weakness within Israel, and shared by Jews worldwide, who focus on so many “negative myths,” because it is that negativity, rather than the positivity of individual action, that limits the Jewish community’s collective strength. Just as Tel Aviv yuppies can “unilaterally” decide to have more children, as they have done, it is incumbent upon each Jew to “unilaterally” choose to do that which he can, on his own, to help the Jewish state when others speak against Israel, he said.

As Ettinger said to one eager questioner at another Manhattan event this week, “Never mind the mistake of waiting for great powers to come to our rescue, never mind what others could do, what can you do? You, yourself? How can you, on your own, contribute here? Only when each Jew does what is in his power will the Jewish people move forward,” he exhorted to a crowd unaccustomed to such direct calls for personal action.

Ettinger’s endorsement of individualism, personal responsibility, and an independent spirit draw inspiration from his time in Texas.

He said the story of Israel in the Middle East is shared by walking a mile in a Texan’s boots:

“When I served in Texas, I used to walk with a ‘Texas’ pin in my lapel. And, many times, Texas ranchers or independent oilmen, who I met, asked me very bluntly: ‘Mr. Ettinger, is there anything in common between us? Why are we meeting at all?'”

“And I said, well, here it is,” as he grabbed at his lapel pin, today the AIPAC-style Israel and American flag pin.

“‘What do you mean?” his potential contact would ask him. “This is our Texas flag.”

“I said, absolutely. You are the Lone Star State and I come from the State of the Lone Star of David.”

“And both of us are Lone Stars. I said, you’re lucky that your neighbors — New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana — they maybe hate you, they’re envious of you, and they maybe even despise you. In our case, our neighbors want to kill us. But both of us have problems with our neighbors. Both of us have to defy the jagged, cutting edge of nature, and that has made both of us very tenacious people.”

He said, “In most cases, people were turned around completely in a positive manner, for the first time realizing that, in many respects, Israel is the Texas of the Middle East.”

But to extend the analogy, what about the people on the other side of that thousand-mile security fence that protects that border, too? What does Israel share with Texas and its relations with the Mexicans?

Ettinger said, “Those who cross from Mexico, in the vast, vast, vast majority, they want to be integrated into America, they accept the American values. Those across the border from Arab countries want to do away with Israel, to terrorize Israel, there is a big difference here.”

He had another Texan analogy he said he wanted to share with the world powers:

“When Americans, Europeans, urge us to sign an agreement, and through that agreement, to concede, and retreat, and appease,” Ettinger began,”the Texans would tell you, don’t kiss a chicken until it grows lips.”

“At this stage, the Arab chickens in the Middle East have not grown lips yet. As long as they don’t have lips, we should be vigilant, we should be on guard, and we should refrain from kissing them.”

“Once they grow lips, this hawk will gladly and enthusiastically become a dove,” former Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

Former Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger's Comparative Analysis of Birth Rates in Israel.

Former Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger's Comparative Analysis of Birth Rates in Israel.

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  • Charles Martel

    I would highly recommend Caroline Glick’s new book, “The Israeli Solution”, to re-enforce this article.

  • Luigi Rosolin (@LuigiBelmont)

    Israel former ambassador clearly indicate the failure of USA Secretary of state failure to understand the reason why Palestinian’s are ideologically at war.There was no ‘Israeli occupation’, but still there was a war on the Jewish communities in the land of Israel,” he said. “Until 1967, Israel was not in Judea and Samaria, or Gaza.”
    That begs the question: If history shows that war predated the “occupation,” how could the “occupation” be the cause of the war? Terrorism PLO still control and abuse-indoctrinate they people.
    In my personal view Palestinians Islamic cult is also the fundamental reason: Islam credo is that they are superior to all that are not Muslim, practically every one else are inferior. That imply similar ideology of Hitler “Arian race” They are using the same tactic ideological-propaganda and distortion of history and fact. Also Muslim’s are allowed to use lies and to brake treaty without any moral as we intend. They cult is consider other as nothing and only to be subjected to Islam by any means. How can you negotiate with a religion cult that is negating the universal human right that human are all the same? USA and Un especially with their short understanding and worse corruption are creating a potential for more destructive ideology because they are not opposing the Islamic ideology of supremacy.

  • foreign policy under Obama crushed, became incoherent and ineffective. America has lost its prestige. It is no longer a great power, but just the U.S. – you can listen, but you can ignore

  • tuv

    Well said
    For Obama to appoint a naïve foreign secretary like Kerry shows Obama’s limitations once again Then again peace which is imposed from the outside will never last It has to result from the bottom up That is from hearts of those who now see the total eradication of another state as a possibility

  • Frank Adam

    Israel should take up the Zaslavsky power towers scheme – see the Technion and Israel21c websites – and so set about subverting the petro-energy blackmail of the Arab World in a generation. It would also level off the global warming problem.

  • David Abel

    Ettinger’s main message: forget the myths and the fears; the power of positive thinking is the spur to Israel success.

  • David Abel

    Ettinger’s main message: forget the myths and fears; the power of positive thinking is the spur to Israel success.

  • Joseph D. Edwards

    Thank you for explaining so clearly what is happening in our world. I pray every day for those who are suffering & dying due to the abuse of power and ignorance of our elected officials In the present administration. Your insight & leadership is greatly appreciated. Joey gentile

  • Mel

    By hosting the U.N. World Hindquarters in New Jerk City and funding the bulk its operational activities, Americans risk and receive terrorist acts far beyond what we earn.

    If the P.L.O. is the center of U.N. policy, and Obama the quarterback, the time is overdue for American taxpayers to demand their quarter back by deporting the entire gang.

    Let’s see how diplomats like raising their families in a world paradise like Pyonyang, Chernobyl or Teheran.

  • Wishful thinking indeed! Why is so difficult to go and read the Hamas Charter? Why can’t Obama do that? There he would find that the conflict has nothing to do with settlements and everything to do with this quote:

    Article 13 of the Hamas Charter reads:
    There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.

    So it would be quite useful if Obama were to take the Kerry Quiz A mini 5 + 1 question quiz for Secretary Kerry

  • Mike

    If the Arab (chickens) were to appear with “lips”, it would very wise to check that those “lips” are the real thing as, after all, how many times have false overtures been made in the past.
    You know what? I’d rather kiss a real chicken that has no lips!

  • Alvin Samuels

    Ambassador Ettinger clearly explains the Orwellian world we live in. Which, by the way is the one housing Obama and Kerry.

  • Efram

    It is great. However, Obama (as you intimated) is the ‘man,’ Kerry just the naive messenger. Obama does not support Israel because of the fact that he is totally enmeshed with radical Islam. He celebrated when the MB won the election in Egypt, and punished Egypt when the people overthrew them. He just made a ‘deal’ with Iran that, in exchange for nothing, frees up $8 billion in sanction relief, thus giving another buddy of his breathing room. Obama has NEVER been a friend of Israel, a friend of humanity, a friend of people. He is an aloof and heavily biased man, who takes no advice, and has no humanity in the peace process. You hit it right on the nose as to how he behaved.

    I have been waiting for Congress to take control. But, here too, Obama is the enemy. He threatens Democrats to within an inch of their collective lives if they dare to join Republicans in full fledged support for Israel. I do not know what Obama has to cow virtually the entire party, but cowed they are. Only if they started acting in America’s interests, and not those of our terrorist-in-chief, would something positive happen. I am still waiting.

    • Kris Kristian


      I stand by what you said.
      Obama is the terrorist in chief. He is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
      He wants to see Israel destroyed.
      Yet, when US Jews were warned not to vote for this liar,they still supported him.
      I wonder how many US Jews are kicking themselves now. Do they regret what harm they have done to Israel?
      But at the moment, for the next 2.5 years, it is too late for regrets.
      Is there nobody in the Repunlican party, or even in the Democratic party who will start impeachment proceedings against this imposter?
      The only way to save the US, is to rid the US of this lia in chief.
      If nothing is done, urgently, the US will suffer for generations to undo all the evil that he has done,.

      Surely, after giving Iran so much money, and giving them the ok to build an atomic bomb, which they intend to use against Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and USA, that must be a way to impeach him.
      Why is he hiding his real birth certificate.
      Surely, Congress should demand via the courts (unfortunately he has appointed judges who support him) to have his real birth certificate made public. And if he is hiding something which would make him ineligable for the presidency, he should face a stiff prison sentence.
      Also, look who he has appointed into his government leadership.
      Mainly Muslims. Some who are members of the MB.
      Does that not frighten the Americans?

  • Jo-Ann Morris

    Thank you for a great and truthful article. I agree with you on all points, especially about Kerry. He was in “over his head” and has yet to realize it.

  • wonderful
    There was no Palestine before 1948—nor was there a Jewish State
    Now—if we want to recognize a Palestinian State —by the same token they must recognize the Jewish State of Israel—not only do they refuse that but Hamas has as its prime policy,aided and abetted by Iran,the destruction of the Sate of Israel

  • Mr Ettinger-
    Excellent Commentary. Israel needs more Men like you to represent them around the World.
    You are so right about everything you said.
    Shabath Shalom.
    Ben Wizman, Los Angeles

    • Sonia Willats

      Yes, only one part of the analogy I disagree with. In the Texan sandstorm, it is not Mr Kerry, and not BHO, who will come off the road, but the average Israeli. Already Israelis who have lost loved ones to terrorism have been ‘run off the road’ due to the absurd prisoner releases. It is not Kerry’s nor Obama’s necks that are at stake in their wilfully incorrect assessments of Middle East politics.

      But well said Mr Ettinger, and thank you!

  • mark bart

    In Russia, the saying is, With your lips, Mr. Ettinger, to drink honey.

  • Richard Rogow

    I agree, a great and very analytical article. (I read in the Asian Times a couple of years ago a similar projection about the demographics in the Middle East, i.e., Jewish birthrate in Israel surpass those of any country in the Middle East).

  • Saba

    Excellent commentary…

  • zionqueen

    Let us be clear what has just happened. Obama held Pollard as a hostage for the release of 400 arab murderers of Jews. Worse he has attempted to black mail Israel into concessions that would harm Israel’s security. This constitutes a betrayal of Israel. Am Israel can no longer have any confidence in the good faith or good judgement of Obama with respect to the arab israeli negotiations.

  • Admirable and up to the point,true statement.
    Kerry is no politician and total ignorant of “Arab reasoning”

  • Mireille Mechoullam

    Well said Mr Ettinger.

  • Henry

    Brilliant analysis

  • Daniela Lowinger

    Great article!

  • Levi Yitzhaq Garbose

    Thank you Ambassador Ettinger!

    Finally it has been absolutely affirmed—everything The Lubavitcher Rebbe said so many years and lives ago!
    Moshiach Now!