A leading Israeli newspaper is reporting that Israel’s defense minister has dealt a scathing assessment of Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposed plan for a peace framework between Israel and the Palestinians, in which he reportedly said Kerry acts out of “obsession” and a “messianic” sense. A State Department spokeswoman later called the comments “offensive and inappropriate.”
The front page report in Tuesday’s Yedioth Ahronoth follows other statements attributed recently to senior Israeli officials who are irritated with Kerry’s approach and believe he is “not in touch with reality.”
According to Yedioth’s account, Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon is voicing particular discontent with a U.S. proposal for securing the Jordan Valley which is situated to Israel’s east. Ya’alon reportedly said in a private conversation, “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who came to us determined and acts out of incomprehensible obsession and a messianic sense, cannot teach me a thing about the conflict with the Palestinians.”
“The security plan the Americans presented us is not worth the paper it was written on. It has no security and it has no peace,” the defense minister reportedly said.
“The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace,” Ya’alon said.
The paper reported that Ya’alon has expressed his deep skepticism about Kerry’s proposed plan to U.S. officials.
“Only a continued presence of ours in Judea and Samaria and along the Jordan River will guarantee that Ben-Gurion International Airport [outside Tel Aviv] and Netanya will not turn into targets and aims for attack by missiles [coming] from every direction,” he said.
Yedioth described Ya’alon as having become over recent months a “bitter rival” of the negotiating team headed by Kerry, reportedly describing himself as “a tough nut to crack.”
According to the report, Ya’alon complained that only the Israeli side has made concessions to the Palestinian Authority since Kerry began his efforts to forge a peace deal, for example the recent release of dozens of convicted terrorists from Israeli prisons, while the Palestinians have taken no steps toward Israel.
One cornerstone of Kerry’s proposal is a plan by retired Gen. John Allen, who was commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, that would – according to regional media reports – involve a pullout of Israeli forces from the border with Jordan, to be replaced by hi-tech gadgetry.
Yedioth reported that Kerry talked up the plan to Israeli officials by saying that “it will be the most quiet [border] in the world, more than between the border of Canada and the United States.”
“What are you talking about,” asked Ya’alon of Kerry’s assessment. “You presented us a plan based on sophisticated technologies, satellites, sensors, war rooms with TV screens, without the presence of our forces on the ground. And I ask you, how will technology address what would happen if a Salafi or Islamic Jihad cell will try to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israeli targets? Who will take care of them? Which satellites will deal with the rocket industry that’s developing in Nablus and will be launched at Tel Aviv and at the center [Central Israel]? Gaza terrorist organizations already hold thousands of missiles that [can] cover the center of the country. These terror groups have transferred missile production knowhow and technology to the West Bank.”
Ya’alon reportedly believes that guarantees of U.S. technological hardware will not change the fact that the Palestinians still do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“We’ve given enough and we’ve received nothing,” he reportedly said, “It was told to our American friends, ‘enough is enough.’”
Tuesday’s front page story was reported by veteran correspondent Shimon Schiffer, who has been working the diplomatic beat for many years and is known in Israel as a reporter with senior government sources.
Bolstering the claims in Schiffer’s account are other reports in recent days in the Israeli media about Israeli government officials voicing displeasure with the Obama administration’s approach to negotiations.
On Friday, the front page of the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv featured a cartoon of Kerry sleepwalking off of a cliff while in pursuit of a dove.
On Thursday, the most widely read newspaper, Israel Hayom, quoted an unnamed diplomatic official who called Kerry’s plan for securing Israel’s eastern border “ridiculous” and inadequate to withstand the test of reality.
That unnamed diplomatic official also painted an unflattering portrait of the secretary of state.
“Kerry visits here a lot, but he does not display any understanding of what is happening here. The U.S. plans are superficial and not serious,” the official told Israel Hayom. “It seems that Kerry is just not in touch with reality. He is not an expert, to say the least, on the roots of the conflict, he does not know how to create real solutions and does not even demonstrate proficiency in reading maps that are presented to him.”
The official, quoted anonymously, echoed the unflattering adjective Defense Minister Ya’alon reportedly used to describe Kerry. “The conduct of the U.S. secretary of state is obsessive,” the official told Israel Hayom and accused him of being motivated by politics. “There are those who say that more than wanting to advance peace, he wants to take advantage of the conflict for his political needs. According to this line of thought, Kerry seems to think his path to the White House is via the signing of a Middle East peace agreement.”
Yedioth wrote that Ya’alon also spared no words for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Using Abbas’ nickname, Ya’alon reportedly said, “Abu Mazen lives by our swords. The moment we leave Judea and Samaria, he’s finished. In reality, there have been no negotiations between us and the Palestinians in recent months, rather between us and the Americans.”
The Israeli defense ministry is not commenting on the Yedioth report. Kerry has made at least ten trips to the region since he began his push for a peace framework upon taking office.
UPDATE: Later on Tuesday, the State Department reacted to Ya’alon’s reported comments, calling them “offensive and inappropriate.”
“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 told reporters in Rome after Kerry visited the Vatican.
The Times of Israel reported that Psaki further said, “Secretary Kerry and his team, including General Allen, 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.”
“To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally,” the spokeswoman said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a speech at the Knesset Tuesday appeared to rebuke his defense minister over the undiplomatic remarks.
“Even when we have disagreements with the United States, they always pertain to the matter at hand, and are not personal,” Netanyahu said, emphasizing “our important ties to the United States.”
This story has been updated to include reaction from the State Department and Prime Minister Netanyahu to Ya’alon’s reported comments.