Panetta and Clinton Take Aim at Israel

Officials Speak Sharply but Few See Intentional Snub

Tough Talk: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says it’s time for Israel to start serious peace negotiations, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton takes aim at the growing gender segregation of women in Israel. Do the sharp words represent a new rift between close allies?
department of defense
Tough Talk: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says it’s time for Israel to start serious peace negotiations, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton takes aim at the growing gender segregation of women in Israel. Do the sharp words represent a new rift between close allies?

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 07, 2011, issue of December 16, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Just as the troubled relationship between the Obama administration and the government of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to be getting on track, remarks by top American officials have made it clear that frustration still runs deep in Washington over Israel’s policies.

Over the course of just a few days, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, along with other government officials, talked about their displeasure with Israel policies ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to relations with Turkey and Egypt and, domestically, to limitations on women’s rights and on Israeli civil society freedoms.

Analysts agree that it would be a mistake to interpret the criticism as an orchestrated attack meant to pressure Israel. No actions from Washington that would back up the critical comments appear to be on the horizon. But many see the statements as a sign of a growing gap between the two countries.

“All these issues are bubbling up because Israelis fail to recognize the depth of American concern,” said Dov Zakheim, undersecretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration. Zakheim, who has been involved in relations between Israel and the United States for decades, said, “Israelis thought for years that they could do whatever they wanted and get unstinting support from the U.S., but it is no longer so.” According to Zakheim, the Obama administration, as well as America’s military leadership, feel that Israel “just didn’t work hard enough” to achieve peace, and therefore there is widespread frustration in the foreign policy and national security communities.

Triggering the latest round in tension between Israel and America was a strongly worded speech delivered on December 2 by Panetta at the Saban Forum, an annual weekend seminar hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. When asked about measures that should be taken by Israel to advance the peace process, Panetta, true to his reputation as a straight-shooter, responded, “Just get back to the damn table.”

The Pentagon chief also pointed out the trend of Israel’s growing isolation. And while explaining that there were several reasons for this problem, Panetta seemed to lay part of the blame on Israel when he stated, “I have never known an Israeli government — or an Israeli, for that matter — to be passive about anything, let alone this troubling trend.”

Panetta urged Israel to increase its efforts to reconcile with Turkey. He openly rebuked Israeli arguments about the effectiveness of a possible military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Panetta’s address surprised and even shocked Israeli officials.

The prevailing notion in Jerusalem had been that Obama’s highly supportive speech at the U.N. General Assembly on September 21 signaled recognition from the United States that it is the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate that has led peace talks to a dead end. “The Israeli interest is not to keep the current situation as it is,” Israeli Cabinet minister Dan Meridor told the Forward on the sideline of the Saban conference. “It is an illusion to think you can maintain the status quo. It is in Israel’s interest to solve the conflict.”

But Panetta’s comments suggested that Israel isn’t off the hook yet. In Washington’s view, it appears, the Netanyahu government, like the Palestinians, requires more prodding in order to engage in talks.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.