Israel’s defence minister has earned a rare rebuke from Washington after calling US secretary of state John Kerry’s quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace “messianic”.
Moshe Yaalon’s spokesman declined to comment on the account, published in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper.
“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,” Mr Yaalon was quoted as saying.
“The only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel prize and leaves us alone.”
The report appeared hours after US vice-president Joe Biden left Israel, where he attended the funeral of former leader Ariel Sharon and held talks with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a brief statement that constituted a rare rebuke to close ally Israel, US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “The remarks of the defence minister [Moshe Yaalon], if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs.
“Secretary Kerry and his team have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel … To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defence minister of a close ally.”
Speaking to students in southern Israel yesterday, in comments broadcast on Army radio, Mr Yaalon appeared to try and exercise damage control.
He said: “Even if there are differences and friction within various discussions, and there are, they must not affect the interests or common goals of Israel and the United States.”
Yedioth Ahronoth said Mr Yaalon had voiced his criticism of Mr Kerry in private conversations before one of the latter’s recent mediation visits to the region, but it gave no specific date.
Mr Kerry has been trying to persuade Israel and the Palestinians – who resumed statehood talks last July after a three-year deadlock – to agree on an outline proposal addressing the core issues of their conflict.
Mr Yaalon, a member of Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, has often cast doubt on the chances of reaching a deal with the Palestinians. A former army chief, he was replaced in his post before Israel’s 2005 unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip, a move he opposed.
Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, justice minister Tzipi Livni, defended Mr Kerry in a message on her Facebook page, hailing his 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.
One of the sticking points in the negotiations has been Israel’s demand to maintain a military presence under any future peace deal in the Jordan Valley, between Jordan and the West Bank. Mr Kerry has presented ideas for security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, but neither side has publicly endorsed them.
According to the newspaper report, Mr Yaalon said: “The American security plan is not worth the paper it is written on.”