Chief peace talks negotiator Tzipi Livni defended US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, after he was harshly criticized by leading Israeli officials for his warning over the weekend that failure of the peace talks was likely to result in an international boycott of Israeli companies. Livni also launched an attack against right-wing lawmakers who voiced their opposition to Kerry’s statements, accusing them of undermining diplomatic relations with the United States.
“Some of those who speak harshly against the US secretary of state would lower their eyes in embarrassment if they knew what Kerry has done to prevent these threats and these boycotts,” Livni said at a faction meeting of the Hatnua party, which she heads.
Kerry was warning Israel of the consequences of peace talks collapsing, not threatening it, Livni said.
In her address, Livni stressed that while the threats of boycotts and delegitimization were “not the reason we enter the negotiations room,” it was nonetheless crucial to be realistic about the potential backlash against Israel in the event peace talks are unsuccessful.
“The role of leaders is to grapple with the reality, to foresee changes as much as possible and to recognize threats,” she said. “These can be security threats, like the threat of Iran and terror, and these can be threats that lead to Israel’s isolation.”
Livni also criticized construction in isolated settlements in the West Bank, and accused dissenters of sabotaging the US-Israel diplomatic alliance.
“Every stone that is built in the isolated settlements damages our chances to secure an agreement that will keep the settlement blocs in Israel and becomes another stone in the wall that isolates Israel from the world,” Livni said. “I am willing to deal with all sorts of threats to protect important security interests. But those that want to derail a political settlement are trying to harm the messenger and our strategic relationship with the US. Those that don’t want a settlement want us to close our eyes in the face of the danger around the corner.”
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Kerry said that Israel faces an “increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things.”
Kerry said he was utterly certain that the current status quo was “not sustainable… It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity. There’s a momentary peace.”
Kerry’s remarks drew fierce criticism from right-wing cabinet members including Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who called the comments “offensive and intolerable.”
On Saturday, Bennett accused Kerry of incitement and of serving as a “mouthpiece” for anti-Semitic elements attempting to boycott Israel.
To Kerry “and all advisers,” Bennett wrote in a Facebook post, “the Jewish people are stronger than the threats against them.” He added that the Jews would not “surrender their land” as a result of economic pressure.
“Only security will bring economic stability, not a terrorist state close to Ben-Gurion Airport. We expect our friends around the world to stand by our side to face the anti-Semitic attempts to boycott Israel, not to be their mouthpiece,” Bennett added.
Kerry’s statements were dismissed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, who said “immoral and unjustified” boycotts would only “push peace farther away.”
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely and Likud MK and deputy minister Ofir Akunis also issued statements condemning Kerry’s remarks.
“Secretary Kerry has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well-being, including staunch opposition to boycotts,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Sunday, in a statement denying Kerry’s support for economic measures against Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.