Inside the White House’s Secret Campaign to Scapegoat Israel

Top diplomats planted anti-Israel reports in lead up to peace talk collapse

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry / AP
April 10, 2014

The Obama administration has been waging a secret media war in capitals across two continents blaming Israel for the recent collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians, according to former Israeli diplomats and Washington, D.C. insiders familiar with the peace process.

Multiple sources told the Washington Free Beacon that top Obama administration officials have worked for the past several days to manufacture a crisis over the reissuing of housing permits in a Jerusalem neighborhood widely acknowledged as Israeli territory.

Senior State Department officials based in Israel have sought to lay the groundwork for Israel to take the blame for talks collapsing by peddling a narrative to the Israeli press claiming that the Palestinians were outraged over Israeli settlements, the Free Beacon has learned.

These administration officials have planted several stories in Israeli and U.S. newspapers blaming Israel for the collapse of peace talks and have additionally provided reporters with anonymous quotes slamming the Israeli government.

The primary source of these multiple reports has been identified as Middle East envoy Martin Indyk and his staff, according to these insiders, who said that the secret media campaign against Israel paved the way for Secretary of State John Kerry to go before Congress on Tuesday and publicly blame Israel for tanking the talks.

"The Palestinians didn’t even know they were supposed to be abandoning negotiations because of these housing permits, which are actually old, reissued permits for areas everyone assumes will end up on the Israelis’ side of the border anyway," said one senior official at a U.S. based pro-Israel organization who asked to remain anonymous because the Obama administration has in the past retaliated against critics from inside the pro-Israel world.

"Then Martin Indyk started telling anyone who would listen that in fact the Palestinians were angry over the housing issue," the source said. "Eventually, the Palestinians figured out it was in their interest to echo what the Americans were saying."

Indyk, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, as well as in several other roles, was appointed by Obama to act as the U.S. special envoy for peace negotiations.

One former Israeli diplomat familiar with Indyk’s tactics said that he is a crass political player who has a history of planting negative stories about Israel in order to undermine the Netanyahu government and bolster his hand in the talks.

"I’ve seen this before and see his fingerprints," said the source, who referenced a separate story two weeks ago in which U.S. government sources implied that newly installed Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer was not performing his job effectively.

"It’s certainly in Indyk’s interest now [to undermine the Israelis], but this was a game he also used to play when he was ambassador twice," said the former diplomat. "This is part of Indyk’s playbook."

"There was only one person who would do this kind of thing and it’s Martin Indyk and his staff," the former diplomat added.

Another Washington-based source familiar with the talks said that Kerry’s peace team has a track record of trashing Israel anonymously.

"It’s one of the worst-kept secrets in Jerusalem that Kerry’s team leaks anti-Netanyahu quotes and claims to the Israeli press—not that is should be a mystery why Israeli reporters based in Israel keep producing anti-Bibi quotes from ‘American officials,’" the source said.

"But just imagine the outrage if the roles were reversed and Bibi had a team on the ground in D.C. trashing Obama to the Washington Post on background," the source said.

The Indyk-led campaign to turn the old Israeli housing permits into the main obstacle to peace began more than a week ago, when signs emerged that the Palestinians were poised to pull out of the peace talks.

"When talks fell apart and the State Department needed a scapegoat, of course they chose Israel, except they picked the dumbest explanation imaginable," said the source who serves as a senior official at a pro-Israel organization.

The Obama administration seized on an announcement by the Israelis that 700 apartments would be built in Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb widely recognized as Israeli territory.

The housing news was actually a reissue of an earlier pronouncement permitting these new apartments to be built, meaning that the substance of the decree had not changed for months and had not been a roadblock to the peace talks.

It is not the first time that the Obama administration has expressed outrage over construction in Gilo.

Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg dismissed the notion in late 2009.

"The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone—the Americans, the Palestinians, and the Israelis—knows that Gilo, the suburb that is the latest source of tension between Washington and Jerusalem, will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution (not that that's ever happening, by the way)," Goldberg wrote. "It doesn't matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel."

The New York Times on Tuesday noted in a report of the talks that the issue of Gilo had "seemed a much less provocative issue," even for the Palestinians.

Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said that it is ridiculous to claim that Gilo housing units killed the talks, which had been faltering for weeks under demands from the Palestinians that Israel release more terrorists from prison.

"To say that’s what ruined the peace process shows a complete lack of understanding on how long they’ve [the Israelis, Palestinians, and the Americans] been peace processing," Amitay said.

Indyk’s bid to pin the blame of the Israelis may have paid off.

Reports emerged on Wednesday that Indyk had "raced to Jerusalem" to lead a bid aimed at salvaging the peace process.

When asked about the news, Amitay said, "the fact Kerry is leaving it up to him [Indyk] is a sign they’ve had to give up."