x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Israeli defence minister apologises for Kerry ‘peace prize’ gibe

Moshe Yaalon had criticsed the US secretary of state for what he called a ‘messianic’ zeal for peace and accused him of seeking talks between the Israelis and Palestinians so as to win a Nobel Peace prize.

Washington // Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon has apologised for criticising John Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.

The apology came after the US government condemned Mr Yaalon’s comments about the secretary of state as offensive and inappropriate.

“Israel and the United States share a common goal of advancing the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry,” Mr Yaalon said on Tuesday.

“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.”

Mr Kerry, in Kuwait for a Syria donors conference, told reporters on Wednesday that he would not let Mr Yaalon “undermine” peace efforts. He said he and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “both very committed to moving the process forward and we just can’t let one set of comments undermine that effort and I don’t intend to”.

The Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported on Tuesday that Mr Yaalon in a private discussion characterised Mr Kerry as having an obsessive, “messianic” zeal to reach a peace deal.

“The only thing that will ‘save’ us is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us alone,” the newspaper cited him as saying. It did not explain how it obtained the information, and Mr Yaalon did not deny the report.

State department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said on Tuesday that the remarks, “if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs”.

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

The diplomatic incident highlights tensions between Israel and the US as Mr Kerry prepares to present Mr Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a blueprint meant to guide talks toward a final peace accord. Mr Netanyahu tried to contain damage by declaring in a speech to parliament that any differences with the US are “not personal”.

Bloomberg News