Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Saturday compared PA President Mahmoud Abbas to the Islamic State and said that the Palestinian leader’s call to defend the Temple Mount from “settlers” is evidence of his attempt to fan the flames of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and turn it into a religious war.
The foreign minister was responding to remarks by Abbas on Friday, in which the Palestinian Authority leader said that Israeli “settlers” had no right to “desecrate” the Temple Mount and should be prevented from accessing the site deemed holy to both Judaism and Islam.
Abbas reiterated those statements Saturday, saying his people should guard a Jerusalem holy site against visiting Jews, whom he referred to as a “herd of cattle.”
Liberman castigated Abbas and the PLO, saying they stood behind the recent spate of violence in East Jerusalem. He said Abbas was calling for a holy war, and thus joins the ranks of radical Islamist groups such as the Islamic State and the Nusra Front.
Liberman also lashed out at Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, accusing him for trying to make political gains off US Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks misinterpreted as linking the rise of extremist Islam to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kerry said Thursday that it was “imperative” to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, since the conflict was helping the Islamic State recruit new members. Bennett, in turn, indicated Kerry was using an anti-Semitic canard.
Liberman told Channel 2 in a Saturday evening interview that while criticizing Kerry might earn the Jewish Home party leader a few votes in a future election, “it will also inflict very sizable political damage.”
“There can be differences of opinion between friends, but there needn’t be attacks,” Liberman said, in veiled reference to Bennett’s remarks.
Kerry came under fire from right-wing Israeli politicians Friday, with Bennett and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan accusing the top US diplomat of showing an unprecedented lack of understanding of the Middle East.
Writing on Facebook, Bennett, who heads the nationalist Jewish Home party, a major coalition member, linked to an article about Kerry’s remarks, commenting in Hebrew that “Even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, someone will always blame the Jew.”
Likud minister Erdan, thought to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pick to become Interior Minister, also blasted Kerry on Facebook, asking sarcastically whether anybody truly believes Islamic State fighters would put down their arms if Israeli-Palestinian talks were restarted.
“I actually respect Kerry and his efforts, but every time he breaks new records of showing a lack of understanding of our region and the essence of the conflict in the Middle East I have trouble respecting what he says,” he wrote in Hebrew.
Liberman responded to criticism of Kerry, saying “I think there’s no alternative for us to the United States, and such incitement only hurts [us].” The foreign minister also commented on the recent moves by the governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom to recognize a Palestinian state, saying that such actions could “be labeled as political bribery to Muslim communities.”
The US State Department denied claims Friday that Kerry made statements on Thursday suggesting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fueling the spread of Islamic terror in the Middle East.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the State Department was aware of the reactions by Israeli officials to the comments, especially those of “a particular minister.”
“What [Kerry] said was that during his travels to build a coalition against the Islamic State, he was told that should the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved, the Middle East would be a better place,” Harf said.
“Either he [Bennett] didn’t read what the secretary said or he was given false information,” she added.
“[Kerry’s] comments were distorted for political gains. He did not make that connection.”
AFP contributed to this report.