The United States responded warmly Friday to comments by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s in which he expressed support for the secretary of state’s peace efforts and called him a “true friend” of Israel.
“Well, we certainly welcomed his remarks and his sentiment and the importance of the peace process, and it’s a reflection of, of course, the belief of many people in Israel that a two-state solution is the right outcome at the end of this process,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a press briefing.
“It certainly is a powerful statement and a powerful message given his [Liberman’s] history and his background on these issues and where his view was,” she added. “It doesn’t mean there’s an end to opponents for a two-state solution, an end to opponents of a peace process, but certainly, we’re hopeful that we can get back to the focus on the difficult issues at hand.”
Earlier Friday, Liberman extolled the US secretary at a trade conference in Tel Aviv. “I want to make something clear,” he said: “Kerry is a true friend of Israel. What’s the point of turning friends into enemies?
“John Kerry is leading the process correctly,” the foreign minister continued. “We are now creating principles with the Americans in order to negotiate directly with the Palestinians, based on them.”
Liberman indicated that he considered the Kerry framework could eventually facilitate the exchange of populated territories for an amended Israeli border with a Palestinian state, as he has long advocated. There has been no indication to this effect from Kerry, however, and the Israeli government has never endorsed Liberman’s call for Arab-populated parts of Israel to be swapped with the Palestinians in exchange for Israel gaining sovereign control over major Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank.
Liberman also denounced Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett’s attacks on Kerry. “We don’t agree with Kerry on everything. This, too, is nothing new. Kerry is not a Gush Emunim [settlement] activist and he has the right to a different opinion than our bellicose friend Naftali Bennett.”
He joked that he saw “Bennett running to the microphones but not running to join the opposition.” A spokesman for Bennett’s Jewish Home party dismissed Liberman’s remarks as “cynical.”
Kerry has been the subject of criticism from the Israeli right, including cabinet ministers, in the wake of a speech the American diplomat made Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, where he warned 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.” He also said Israel’s current prosperity and security were “illusory.”
In his address on Friday, Liberman said Israel had faced boycott pressure for decades, and knew how to fight back if necessary.
Bennett, Housing Minister Uri Ariel, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and other right-wing leaders leveled a series of accusations against Kerry, including that he was anti-Israel and that his warnings of boycotts effectively empowered the boycott campaign. Others, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, insisted Kerry had defended Israel and that any disagreement with him must be substantive rather than personal, although Netanyahu also declared he would not be swayed by boycott threats.
“You must not know the Jewish nation; the Jewish nation is stronger than these threats. We will not collapse in the face of intimidation,” Bennett said on Monday.
“It’s difficult to accept Kerry’s explanation that he was describing the situation as an onlooker,” Erdan said at a convention in Jerusalem, also Monday. “He appears more like someone trying to fan the flames of threats against Israel’s economy.”
The accusations against Kerry have included claims he was driven by anti-Semitism. During an interview last week on Israel Radio, MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home party) said that “the prime minister is maneuvering under the obsessive and unprofessional pressures that might also bear an undertone of anti-Semitism on Kerry’s part.”
Yogev argued that “he has an anti-Israel foundation in that he does not come to compromise, but instead comes with unequivocal answers about shrinking the Land of Israel and establishing a Palestinian state,” adding that “the members of my faction also think that he is not a fair broker and he is not fit to mediate here, because his positions are predetermined.”
Yogev later wrote to Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel, saying he was retracting the charge of anti-Semitism, but maintained his opposition to Kerry as a fair broker.
On Monday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice fired off a series of tweets in defense of the secretary, saying that “personal attacks in Israel directed at Sen. Kerry totally [are] unfounded and unacceptable.” She wrote that “John Kerry’s record of support for Israel’s security and prosperity [is] rock solid.” She also said the US government “has been clear and consistent that we reject efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel.”
Kerry himself said Wednesday that he would not be intimidated by criticism of his role.