Dermer: Linking settlements to terror wave ‘very foolish’

Ambassador takes dig at Kerry statements but emphasizes renewed US-Israel partnership following Iran deal acrimony

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Ron Dermer speaks on Thursday, April 16, 2015, in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Ron Dermer speaks on Thursday, April 16, 2015, in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — The current wave of violence rocking Israel has nothing to do with West Bank settlement building, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said Saturday night, taking a veiled jab at US Secretary of State John Kerry, who recently linked the two.

Speaking to the Israeli American Council at the organization’s second annual conference, Dermer said Palestinian incitement was the root cause of the conflict, and despite his apparent pushing back at Washington, stressed that US-Israel relations were picking up where they left off before ties took a nosedive over nuclear talks with Iran.

“When it comes to the Middle East, you find very smart people believing in very foolish things,” Dermer complained. “There are some people who believe that these attacks are happening because of the territories that Israel captured in the Six Day War or because of the peace process.”

The comments seemed aimed toward statements made by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, when he appeared to link growth of settlements – and a general feeling of disappointment with progress in the peace process — to the upswing of violence.

“Israel should embrace peace for its own sake because Israel doesn’t want to become a binational state, but the idea that renewing the peace process or withdrawing from the territories will somehow stop terror is a fiction,” Dermer said. “Terror attacks like the ones that we have seen in the past few weeks have been happening for 100 years.”

“The [igniting] match was not the settlements or the lack of a peace process, the match was the lie that Israel was trying to harm the al-Aqsa Mosque,” he countered. The lie, Dermer emphasized, was not just spread by Hamas, but “unfortunately” also by Palestinian Authority officials.

“The powder keg that this match ignited is decades of incitement by Palestinian leaders against Israel,” he argued. “Since Oslo, the Palestinian leadership has been poisoning an entire generation to hate Israel and hate Jews… A generation of Palestinians have grown up in a society that glorifies the murder of Jews.”

Pushing back against an equivalence drawn by State Department officials who pointed at acts of terror on both sides of the conflict, Dermer argued that while “every society can produce individuals who do terrible things,” the Palestinian Authority, which he accused of condoning and encourages violence, was different from the Israeli leadership, which condemns it.

“Palestinian terror is met by a very different response by Palestinian leaders and wider society,” he noted. “Killers are glorified, candies are passed out in the streets, and they spend millions to support the killers’ families.”

“There is no moral equivalency between Israel and the Palestinian Authority whatsoever,” he declared. “The leaders of the Palestinian Authority have not condemned any terror attack that we have seen over the past few weeks.”

“We’re going to have to make this the big issue,” Dermer said. “Only when Palestinian children are educated for peace will Israel and the Palestinians be on the road to peace.”

He called on the international community to further peace “by not pretending to look the other way as Palestinian leaders poison another generation of Palestinian children.”

International organizations, he said, should “use their money to ensure that [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas will not be a peace partner until he takes an unequivocal stance’ opposing terror. “If they would focus a tenth of the time that they focus on Jews building apartments in Jerusalem, if they devoted a tenth of that time to Pals building a culture of hate, this situation would be very different.”

His comments echoed statements by other senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who have argued that the violence is unconnected to settlement building, and chafed at State Department criticism of Israeli efforts to fight the wave of violence and equate Israeli actions with Palestinian ones.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman John Kirby said he had seen “reports of security activity that could indicate the potential excessive use of force,” and also seemed to suggest Israel could be guilty of breaking the status quo on the Temple Mount.

Kirby later tweeted a clarification that he “did not mean to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif has been broken.”

In response, a number of top Israeli ministers spoke out publicly against the State Department Thursday, leading Netanyahu to reportedly order that top officials desist from making public statements on the subject.

Speaking after Dermer, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also said that the earlier comments by US officials were unacceptable, but said that she was happy o see that the comments had been “corrected.”

Despite what many have described as a low point in ties with the US recently, Dermer emphasized that Israel was on the road to improving relations with the White House.

“Despite all the naysayers, the alliance [between the US and Israel] will also weather the serious disagreement that Israel has had with the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear deal,” Dermer told the audience.

He added that talks on defense cooperation resumed in the past week “after a long break,” and will be backed up with a visit by Defense Minister Bogie Ya’alon later this month, during which Ya’alon will meet with his American counterparts.

On Saturday, new Joint Chiefs of Staff head Joseph Dunford arrived in Israel for defense talks, in his first trip abroad since taking up the post.

Israel, said Dermer, “is also moving ahead to find a common policy with the United States in order to address the dangers posed by Iran.”

He suggested that the two countries should cooperate “to ensure that Iran is complying with its nuclear obligations,” to combat Iranian influence in the region, and “to tear down Iran’s global terror network.”

Dermer, who was considered the architect of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March speech before Congress, which led to particularly high levels of tension between the administrations, said that “in making that case [against the nuclear agreement], the prime minister of Israel exercised both his right and responsibility to speak, a right that had long been denied the Jewish people and a responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the leaders of the Jewish state.”

“I have little doubt that history will be kind in judging the prime minister’s actions at the time,” Dermer added.

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