The Cable

Kerry Turns Against the Egyptian Military He Once Hailed

It wasn't long ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was crediting Egypt's generals for their democratic intentions and their role in preventing a full-blown civil war. But that was before Wednesday's bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Now Kerry is lashing out at the military he was publicly, if cautiously, extolling just weeks before, calling attacks against demonstrators a "serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people's hopes for a transition towards democracy and inclusion." 

Speaking on behalf of President Obama, who is on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Kerry called Wednesday's events "deplorable," saying they "run counter to Egyptians aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy."  Across the country, at least 278 people were killed as Egyptian authorities cracked down on two anti-government sit-ins in Cairo.

Prior to today, few U.S. officials have been more supportive of the Egyptian military than Kerry, who has contextualized its decision to overthrow President Mohamed Morsy in a number of supportive statements. 

"In effect, they were restoring democracy," Kerry said this month during a visit to Pakistan. "The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment-so far, so far-to run the country. There's a civilian government." Today, Egypt's government lost some of that civilian quality with the resignation of Vice President Mohammad ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who left office in protest of the violent crackdown.

In July, Kerry suggested that the military's swift actions may have prevented a civil war. "You had an extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence," he said.

In recent days, Kerry walked back his remarks about "restoring democracy" to some extent, however, today's address at the State Department marked a watershed moment in his posture toward the on-again off-again ally. The question now is whether the U.S. will back up its disapproval with more punitive action.

Last month, the Pentagon moved in that direction with the postponement of a shipment of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. The U.S. has so far refused to cut off the $1.3 billion in annual military aid, despite the wishes of a small minority in Congress.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is now "seriously considering" cancelling plans to hold a military exercise with Egypt planned in about a month, but there's no final word on that yet.

Back at Martha's Vineyard, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. "strongly opposed" the military's declared state of emergency, which includes a curfew . "We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint, and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens, just as we've urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully," he said.

Still, it's clear that U.S. officials are not yet ready to pull the plug on U.S.-Egypt relations. "I am convinced that that path is, in fact, still open and it is possible, though it has been made much, much harder, much more complicated, by the events of today," said Kerry.

The Cable

Israeli Settlers' Spokesman: We'll Never Leave

As the first direct talks in three years between Israelis and Palestinians get underway in Jerusalem on Wednesday, hardliners on both sides are ramping up their opposition to re-engagement. For the maximalists, many of the proposals under consideration represent a form of betrayal. For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who have both taken steps to re-launch the peace talks, the hardliners represent a major headache.

To many Israeli settlers, Abbas is an unworthy negotiating partner and any forfeiture of land to the Palestinians is unacceptable. "As far as we're concerned, the Israeli government does not have a mandate to force us out of our homes," David Ha'ivri, a director at the Shomron Liaison Office, a group that advocates for Jewish West Bank settlers, told The Cable. "So if the Netanyahu government does decide to pull out, we're saying to the Israeli government: ‘Sorry, you don't have a mandate to force us out.'"

To Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, the peace talks will only serve to benefit the Israelis. "We renew our rejection of these futile talks, and consider them purely a means for the occupation (Israel) to look good to the international community," senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar told reporters on Monday. "We call on the Palestinian people to unite in confronting the crime that is the peace talks."

Across the Middle East, there's skepticism that the negotiations will accomplish much -- and concern that if and when talks collapse, the results could be disastrous.

"My concern is what happens when the negotiations reach a dead end," Dani Dayan, the Yesha Council's chief foreign envoy, told The Cable. "There are two options: They can implode causing no collateral damage or they could explode causing a lot of debris and violence as what happened in the year 2000," a reference to the Second Intifada, which followed the collapse of peace talks led by the Clinton administration.

Wednesday's talks, of course, will differ from face-to-face negotiations conducted by Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the past. Absent from the talks will be Netanyahu, Abbas, President Barack Obama, and Secretary of State John Kerry. The protocol this time around starts with a meeting between the two appointed negotiators and neither having the power to cut a deal. It brings together Israeli negotiators Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli Foreign Minister, and Isaac Molcho, a prime ministerial aide, and Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat, a longtime negotiator, and Muhammed Shtayyeh, a Fatah official. The American envoys for the meeting include Martin Indyk and his deputy Frank Lowenstein.

The State Department has made clear that the negotiations will be draped in secrecy as to ensure trust between the two sides. But while that may help the negotiating process, it leaves the hardliners on both sides to toss bombs at the leaders working for peace. "Secretary Kerry convinced the Israelis to release the prisoners which is a stain on American democracy," said Dayan. "A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist."

"It's not helpful coming in as a superpower and declaring a deadline," added Ha'ivri. "Things take time in the Middle East. The culture here is different. The people here are different."