Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon apologized late Tuesday evening for an off-the-record characterization of Secretary of State John Kerry’s quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace as “an incomprehensible obsession.”
The U.S. reacted with open indignation: “The remarks of the Defense Minister, if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a brief statement Tuesday in Rome.
“The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister,” the Defense Ministry statement read.
“Israel and the United States share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry. We appreciate Secretary Kerry’s many efforts towards that end,” the statement continued.
The comment drew only a mild reprimand from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has had his own ups-and-downs with American leaders.
“Even when we have disagreements with the U.S., they are always on the heart of the matter, not on the merits of an individual,” Netanyahu said, though he did not disagree explicitly with Yaalon’s assessment.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) took points off Yaalon’s grade only on style, saying, “I agree with content. But with all our disagreements we need to follow one rule: We must refrain from personal insults.”
“Secretary of State John Kerry — who has come to us determined and is acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and a messianic feeling — cannot teach me a single thing about the conflict with the Palestinians,” Yaalon was quoted as saying.
“The only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel prize and leaves us alone.”
The main negotiator with the Palestinians, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, defended Kerry’s commitment to Israel’s future.
“One can object to the talks in a matter-of-fact and responsible manner without lashing out and wrecking relations with our best of friends,” she said.
According to the report, Yaalon also had biting words for Kerry’s framework proposal: “I live and breathe the conflict with the Palestinians, I know what they think, what they want and what they really mean. The American security plan that was presented to us is not worth the paper it was written on,” he reportedly said.
He also questioned whether Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority lost control of the Gaza Strip to rival Hamas in a brief civil war in 2007, would be able to remain in power after an Israeli pullout.
“Mahmoud Abbas lives by our sword,” he said. “The minute we leave Yehudah and Shomron he is finished.”