State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki on Wednesday dismissed a Maariv report that claimed officials there are infuriated with President Barack Obama for his withering critique of Israel in an interview with Bloomberg.
Maariv quoted two anonymous sources close to Secretary of State John Kerry claiming that the interview the president granted on Sunday was deliberately concealed from the secretary and undermines Kerry’s peace efforts.
The sources — one US citizen and one Israeli, according to the paper — maintained that the president’s remarks undercut Kerry’s efforts in winning over Israel and encouraging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept a US-drafted framework agreement. Obama’s comments, published precisely as Netanyahu was flying into the US to meet with him, included a bitter attack on Netanyahu’s settlement policies, a warning that Israel’s positions were becoming harder to defend, and an upbeat assessment of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s peace-making bona fides.
“The interview Obama gave, unbeknownst to Kerry, in which he launched a personal attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a way that departs from any acceptable formulation, undermines Kerry’s sincere efforts,” one source told the paper.
The second source stressed that Kerry’s primary concern regarding the interview is that it “damaged Netanyahu’s and the Israeli public’s trust in the US efforts [to broker a peace agreement].”
Responding to the allegations, Psaki calls the report the “most fabricated, false reporting of [the] day.”
most fabricated, false reporting of day?.. Bardenstein writes in Ma’ariv that State upset with WH over @JeffreyGoldberg interview on MEP
— Jen Psaki (@statedeptspox) March 5, 2014
In the interview with Bloomberg on Sunday, Obama condemned Israel’s “aggressive settlement construction” in the West Bank, and warned that should peace talks fail, the US may not be shield Israel from increased international isolation and backlash. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited,” he said.
“Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank?” he also inquired of the Israeli public. “Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?” he asked.
The scathing interview was published the day before Netanyahu met Obama at the White House — a meeting that both sides subsequently indicated went fairly well.
In Kerry’s address at AIPAC on Monday, the secretary adopted a far softer tone than the president had taken in the Bloomberg interview, pledging that in regard to an agreement with the Palestinians “America will be there every day of week, every step of the way.”
Kerry assured the 14,000 pro-Israel attendees that “we will never let the West Bank turn into another Gaza.” After Israel pulled all its troops and citizens out of Gaza in 2005, Hamas overran the coastal strip, turning it into a launching ground for rockets designed to harm Israeli civilians.
In his warm and lengthy address, strikingly, Kerry did not once refer to the settlements. Neither, incidentally, did Netanyahu when he addressed AIPAC on Tuesday.
Adiv Sterman and Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.