President Shimon Peres on Wednesday defended the US handling of peace efforts and its commitment to Israel, in a veiled criticism of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s recent withering critique of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
At a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Institute of National Security Studies, Peres said that the US was mediating the talks between Israel and the Palestinians with a fair and supportive approach.
“The US came here clean,” he said. “What interest does it have except for supporting free democracy? [US President Barack] Obama is doing everything in his power in order to help us militarily and with intelligence — he went so far as to cast a UN veto against the attempt to condemn the settlements that he himself opposes.”
Ya’alon on Tuesday was quoted in the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth as making scathing statements about Kerry’s involvement in the peace negotiations, calling him “obsessive” and “messianic,” and describing his West Bank security proposals as worthless The comments elicited outrage from Washington that led, late Tuesday night, to an apology from the defense minister. On Wednesday, Kerry shrugged off the defense minister’s criticism and insisted that it had no bearing on his or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to pursuing peace.
“We are on the same front” as Washington, Peres said. He added that Israel’s relations with the Arab world have changed drastically for the better, whether or not Arab states have admitted as much. “Today the Arab world knows that its problems are not connected to Israel. There’s only one place where it’s related to Israel — our relations with the Palestinians.”
Speaking at the same event, Netanyahu called the ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians, now in their sixth month, “complex and difficult.”
“We’re standing firm on our interests, but in order to reach an agreement there must be two elements: recognition of a Jewish state and an end to the conflict,” he said. Over the weekend, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fervently rejected the possibility of recognizing Israel and compromising on a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. Abbas also hardened his position on Palestinian refugee demands.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s coalition partner Finance Minister Yair Lapid told his Yesh Atid party that the goal of talks with the Palestinians wasn’t peace per se but rather a settlement that would disentangle Israel from the Palestinians, amicably or not.
“The time has come to part ways with the Palestinians,” Lapid said in a message to party members. “We don’t deal with peace at all; rather with the need to say goodbye. Our objective is to reach an agreement that allows us to separate from the Palestinians with maximum efficiency while strictly guarding Israel’s security interests.”
Lapid, a political centrist, said it was impossible to trust Abbas and his people, and that Israelis could rely “only on ourselves.”
“Time after time the Palestinians have proven they are unworthy of our trust, which is precisely why the State of Israel cannot let itself incorporate four million Palestinians,” he said.
The peace negotiations between Israel and the PA restarted in July and are set to continue through April. Recently, Kerry has been trying to push a framework peace deal outlining the contours of an agreement and touching upon all major aspects of the dispute, with the aim of prolonging the negotiations past the April deadline, but the gaps between the two sides remain wide.