John Kerry drew criticism over the weekend from Israeli government ministers after the secretary of state made comments last week suggesting Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians officially recognize their country as a Jewish state is a mistake.
“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be, you know, raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday in an apparent critique of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for whom the recognition is a key issue in negotiations.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin of Netanyahu’s Likud party told Israel Radio on Sunday that Kerry’s remarks fit a trend over the past two decades in which western nations pressure Israel and not the Palestinians, no matter which side they agree with.
Elkin added that Israel had to now stand up for its principles and end the “sad tradition.”
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan called the timing of Kerry’s remarks before President Barack Obama’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this coming week unfortunate.
“It is unfortunate that ahead of the Abbas-Obama meeting, Kerry makes a mistake and once again pressures the wrong side,” Erdan said.
“The Secretary of State should ask Abbas why he refuses to recognize the Jewish state. It is obvious that reason is that the Palestinians want to bring up more demands in the future, even if an agreement is signed, and are not interested in ending the conflict,” he added.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also took issue with Kerry’s assessment that Israel was mistaken in insisting its Jewish character be recognized.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News that aired on Saturday, Ya’alon said that the refusal of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state would make a final status peace deal impossible.
Netanyahu has insisted that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the Jewish state before any peace deal can be signed, but Abbas has said he would refuse to do so. Palestinian officials have attributed that refusal to an unwillingness by the Palestinians to give up any future potential benefits to the those who fled the area during the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants.
Even opposition Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said the Palestinians will ultimately have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
During an account of his testimony described in the Times of Israel, Kerry said that the “Jewish state” issue has already been addressed by several UN resolutions and that the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat “confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state.”
Abbas is scheduled to meet Obama on Monday.