Two weeks after he blasted US Secretary of State John Kerry for “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” efforts to produce an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and hailed the US-Israel relationship. Ya’alon met with his US counterpart, on the sidelines of the Munich security conference Saturday, to discuss bilateral ties.
“The United States is Israel’s greatest friend, and our appreciation for it runs deep,” Ya’alon said following his meeting with Hagel. “We have shared values and interests and strong ties that surmount our differences.”
One such shared interest, according to Ya’alon, was the need to combat the threat of jihadi terror “in the region and beyond.”
Last month, Ya’alon lashed out at Kerry and savaged Washington-led peace talks in private conversations. The Yedioth Ahronoth daily recounted the defense minister lambasting the security arrangements drawn up by Kerry as part of his peace planning, saying the security proposal was “not worth the paper it is printed on” and would not provide security for Israel.
The report also quoted Ya’alon calling Kerry “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to coax the two sides into a peace agreement. The defense minister reportedly said Kerry has “nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians. All that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.”
After the comments provoked a furious response from the US, and demands for an apology, Ya’alon changed his tone but did not deny making the remarks. In a statement published in English and Hebrew, the defense minister’s bureau said Israel greatly appreciates Kerry’s efforts and that Ya’alon “did not intend to insult the secretary and he apologizes if the secretary was hurt by the remarks attributed to the defense minister.”
The apology was issued after a meeting between Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Obama administration had publicly taken Ya’alon to task, and also demanded that Netanyahu explicitly disavow Ya’alon’s comments and affirm his commitment to the peace talks, according to several Israeli media outlets.
“To question Secretary Kerry’s motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney said at the time, echoing comments from State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki. “The remarks of the defense minister [Ya'alon], if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs, and will continue to do,” Psaki said.
“Secretary Kerry and his team, including General [John] 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,” she added. “To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally.”
The American rebukes came several hours after a gentler reprimand of Ya’alon from Netanyahu, in a speech before the Knesset marking the Israeli parliament’s 65th birthday. “Even when we have disagreements with the United States, they are always substantive and not ad hominem,” Netanyahu said.
Ya’alon was also assailed for his reported comments by President Shimon Peres and several senior cabinet colleagues, including from the right.
Ya’alon, considered a defense hawk, has publicly expressed skepticism over plans for Israel to pull out of the West Bank, and firmly opposed an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley.
Ya’alon has been a strident critic of the American-brokered peace talks, which began in July and stipulated a nine-month window, until April, to reach a final status agreement.
Kerry has made 10 visits to the region this year, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to mediate talks. Recently, he has been pushing a framework agreement as part of his efforts to nudge Abbas and Netanyahu closer to a full treaty that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But the two sides have reportedly been at odds over almost every aspect of the core issues involved in a two-state accord.