Kerry Defends Peace Efforts as Israeli Criticism Gets Personal

Image: Kerry Defends Peace Efforts as Israeli Criticism Gets Personal

Thursday, 06 Feb 2014 07:12 AM

 

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Israeli officials’ jibes at U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have intensified as he works on a blueprint for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, forcing him to defend a mission already burdened by wide gaps.

“Unfortunately, there are some people in Israel, and in Palestine and in the Arab world, and around the world, who don’t support the peace process,” Kerry said yesterday in an interview on CNN. “I’ve been, quote, ‘attacked’ before by people using real bullets, not words. And I am not going to be intimidated.”

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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon launched the opening salvo last month by describing him as “messianic” and “obsessed” with reaching a peace deal -- remarks he later apologized for making. Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz fanned the flames this week by accusing Kerry of supporting Palestinian efforts to boycott Israel with remarks that were “offensive, unfair and intolerable.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to agree with Steinitz while not mentioning Kerry by name, telling his cabinet this week that “threats to boycott the state of Israel will not achieve their goal.”

Kerry had warned at a security conference in Munich on Feb. 1 that Israel could face growing economic sanctions if the peace talks failed. His remarks, he said, were “distorted” by his Israeli critics.

“I did not do anything except cite what other people are talking about as a problem, but I also have always opposed boycotts,” he later said.

Peace Vision

Kerry has been pushing to clinch a peace deal that has eluded Israelis and Palestinians for decades, and is preparing to present the sides with a vision of an accord that is to serve as a guideline for talks on a final agreement. Reports that the proposal includes handing over West Bank territory now populated by Jewish settlers have especially incensed Israelis opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Opponents include lawmaker Moti Yogev of the Jewish Home Party, who told Israel Radio that Kerry’s policies contained an “undertone” of anti- Semitism, before being asked by the Anti-Defamation League to retract the remark.

The official council representing Israel’s West Bank settlers has produced several videos parodying Kerry’s peace efforts. The latest, released this week, shows an actor portraying Kerry trying to persuade Israelis to give up control of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, located on territory claimed by the Palestinians, by promising to build a new one “closer to the beach.”

Precedents Set

Israeli criticism of the kind directed against Kerry is neither a first, nor the harshest, aimed at a U.S. secretary of state, said Mark Heller senior research fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies.

“You had such language used against James Baker in the early 1990s, and even worse aimed at Henry Kissinger in the 1970s, when many Israelis attacked him as a Jewish traitor. But that was at street demonstrations; what’s new here is the level of criticism coming from ministers,” Heller said.

Baker, who prodded Israel into its first talks with Palestinian officials at the 1991 Madrid conference, was accused of anti-Semitism after he was reported using an expletive to express his frustration with Israel’s American-Jewish supporters. Kissinger drew street protests after the 1973 Mideast war as he pressed Israel to withdraw from Egyptian and Syrian territory it conquered.

Criticism Assailed

Kerry also has supporters in the cabinet who have criticized the attacks on him as damaging Israel’s alliance with its most important ally.

“Ministers and others are speaking in a way that upsets me as an Israeli,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading negotiations with the Palestinians, told Israel Radio this week. “There are people who don’t want to reach an agreement, they don’t care what Kerry will present.”

There are two likely reasons for the intensity of the Kerry criticism, Heller said.

“First, is that some ministers are saying these things intending to gain domestic political benefit,” he said. “Second, it may just be a sign of panic from opponents of the peace process that this time we might really be getting close to a deal.”

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