Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon lashed into US Secretary of State John Kerry and savaged US-led peace talks with the Palestinians in private conversations, according to a Tuesday report in a major Israeli daily.
The unsourced report in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper recounts Ya’alon lambasting the security proposals drawn up by Kerry as part of his peace plan as being “not worth the paper it is printed on” and something that won’t provide security for Israel.
The report also quotes Ya’alon calling Kerry “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to coax the two sides into a peace agreement. Ya’alon 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,” the paper quotes him saying.
A Defense Ministry spokesperson declined comment. In a reference to the Yedioth report, Ya’alon said Tuesday, “Even if there are disagreements between us and the Americans in our discussions, they shouldn’t overshadow our shared goals and interests.”
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.
Speaking privately, Ya’alon said an American security plan that could ostensibly facilitate a safe withdrawal by Israel, and which calls for advanced electronic surveillance in the West Bank area instead of an Israeli military presence, would actually “ensure that Ben Gurion Airport and Netanya become a missile target,” which only “our continued presence in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan River” will prevent, according to the report.
“What are you talking about?” Ya’alon was said to have directly retorted to assertions by Kerry recently that his security proposal would render Israel’s eastern border more tranquil that the US-Canada border. “You’ve given us a plan based on advanced technologies — satellites, sensors, war rooms with TV screens — but with no presence in the field of our forces. How is that technology going to help when a Salafist or an Islamic Jihad terror cell tries to attack Israeli targets?” Ya’alon reportedly wondered. “How are satellites going to quash the rocket-building industry that’s developing in Nablus and that will launch rockets at Tel Aviv and the center of the country?”
He also hammered into Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, saying his continued rule of the West Bank was only thanks to Israel.
“The moment we leave Judea and Samaria he’s finished,” Ya’alon was quoted saying. “In practical terms for the last few months we’ve been holding talks not with the Palestinians, but with the Americans.”
He also lamented that the Palestinians had yet to give up anything in the ongoing peace negotiations, while Israel had “released murderers,” a reference to a series of prisoner discharges in which 78 longtime Palestinian terror convicts have been freed in recent months. “Enough is enough.”
In response, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is managing talks with the Palestinians, spoke out in defense of Kerry and the peace efforts, saying they were being pushed by Washington “out of a deep understanding that this is in Israel’s interests.”
“The negotiations are held in such a way that Israel’s interests are safeguarded, primarily its security. It is possible to oppose the negotiations in a practical and responsible way rather than lash out and destroy our relations with our closest friend [the United States],” she said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Opposition head Isaac Herzog (Labor) said that Ya’alon’s comments were emblematic of a wider cynicism within the Likud party.
“The defense minister’s insulting and hurtful tongue-lashing towards Secretary of State Kerry reveals the Likud’s true colors,” he said in a statement also posted to Facebook. “It’s not a security issue, because that can be discussed. It’s an organized ideology that does not believe in any kind of solution or separation from the Palestinians. Ya’alon is preparing the ground for a binational state. This is the end of the Zionist vision and of a democratic state with secure borders.”
Herzog also called for the Yesh Atid and Hatnua parties, the latter of which is helmed by Livni, to demand answers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or pull out of the coalition in the wake of the report.
“Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid can continue to recite messages about peace. They, like me, believe the time is ripe for an agreement, but they know they don’t have partners in a government that does not have the vision for peace,” he said.
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.
While raised a left-leaning Labor supporter, Ya’alon’s stances hardened during his years spent as the IDF commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, the head of military intelligence and then head of OC Central Command. Those years, he has said, left him with the unshakable conviction that the Palestinians are unwilling to accept any sort of national Jewish entity alongside them and that ceding territory only served to encourage further aggression.
In 2005, as chief of the IDF General Staff, Ya’alon made his opposition to the disengagement from Gaza known. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon and defense minister Shaul Mofaz opted against granting him the customary fourth year in office and released him from service in July of that year, several weeks before the withdrawal.
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. As part of a framework deal designed to keep the talks going past an April deadline, Kerry has been reportedly pushing Netanyahu to agree to negotiations on the basis of a Palestinian state to be established along the pre-1967 lines, with land-swap adjustments, and urging Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Beyond these points, the two sides are said to disagree over security arrangements, border demarcations, and the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugee demands under a permanent deal. There have also been disputes over who will be released in a final phase of prisoner releases by Israel of terror convicts in the coming months.
Mitch Ginsberg, Yifa Yaakov and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.