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Americas

Israeli defence minister apologises for 'offensive' Kerry comments

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-15

The US expressed indignation Tuesday over comments made by Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, saying US Secretary of State John Kerry was pushing for peace in the Middle East with "messianic fervour". Yaalon has since apologised.

In a strong rebuke, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that if true, Yaalon’s remarks were “offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs”.

Yaalon said in a statement later on Tuesday that "Israel and the United States share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry," adding: "We appreciate Secretary Kerry's many efforts towards that end." 

"The defence minister had no intention to cause any offence to the secretary, and he apologises if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister," the statement said.

Diplomatic push

Kerry has been on a diplomatic blitz in recent weeks to persuade Israel and the Palestinians, who resumed statehood talks in July after a three-year deadlock, to agree on an outline proposal addressing the core issues of their conflict.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth had published an article earlier in the day which quoted Yaalon making derisive comments about Kerry while speaking behind closed doors.

“American Secretary of State John Kerry, who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor, cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians," Yaalon was reported to have said.

“The only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel prize and leaves us alone.”

Yaalon responded to the Yedioth article with a written statement, in which he described the US as an ally of importance, but did not actually deny having made the comments.

“When there are disagreements, we work through them inside the room – including with Secretary of State Kerry, with whom I hold many conversations about Israel’s future,” Yaalon said.

The acrimony comes at a delicate time in peace negotiations that have shown little sign of progress. Kerry, who made his 10th visit to Jerusalem in less than a year last week, has been pushing both sides to agree to at least a preliminary deal.

‘Great ally’

Following the article’s publication, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to take Yaalon, a member of his right-wing Likud party, to task during a session of parliament, calling the United States a “great ally”.

“Even when we have disagreements with the United States, they always pertain to the matter at hand, and are not personal,” Netanyahu said.

Yaalon has often cast doubt on the chances of reaching a deal with the Palestinians and has been a strong supporter of settlement building. As Israel’s military chief, he was replaced in that post before its 2005 Gaza pullout, a move he opposed.

Gaza is now governed by Hamas Islamists opposed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s engagement with the Jewish state. Abbas holds sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

One of the sticking points in the negotiations has been Israel’s demand to maintain a military presence under any future peace deal in the Jordan Valley, between Jordan and the West Bank.

Kerry has presented the sides with ideas for security arrangements in the Jordan Valley. Neither has publicly endorsed them. According to Yedioth, Yaalon said, “The American security plan is not worth the paper it is written on.”

State Department spokeswoman Psaki challenged Yaalon on the issue.

“Secretary Kerry and his team ... have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the Secretary’s deep concern for Israel’s future,” she said.

“To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defence minister of a close ally.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-14

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