Israel grateful for Kerry’s peace efforts, Peres says

In effort to counter criticism, president insists US secretary of state ‘hasn’t come to fight with us, but to bring reconciliation’

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

President Shimon Peres meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 6, 2013. (Photo credit:  Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Shimon Peres meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 6, 2013. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Shimon Peres on Tuesday praised US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace efforts, defending the top American diplomat from recent criticism leveled at him from local right-wing politicians.

Kerry’s peace effort “comes at the behest of both sides – we, the Palestinians, the whole world,” Peres said at a ceremony at the President’s Residence honoring Israeli exporters.

“We thank him for his efforts,” the president continued, “and we’re strengthening his hand and looking forward to positive results.”

Peres’s comments come amid a flood of fierce criticism against the American diplomat from Israeli right-wing politicians in recent days following a speech in which Kerry warned that boycotts and delegitimization of Israel would only expand without a peace deal.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Kerry said 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.”

Kerry said he was utterly certain that the current status quo was “not sustainable… It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity. There’s a momentary peace.”

Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz called the comments “offensive and intolerable,” and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett accused Kerry of incitement and of serving as a “mouthpiece” for anti-Semitic elements attempting to boycott Israel.

“Only security will bring economic stability, not a terrorist state close to Ben-Gurion Airport. We expect our friends around the world to stand by our side to face the anti-Semitic attempts to boycott Israel, not to be their mouthpiece,” Bennett said on Saturday.

But Peres seemed to reject the criticism on Tuesday.

“[Kerry] himself has emphasized that the result [of peace talks] must be acceptable to both sides,” he said. “He hasn’t come to fight with us, but to bring reconciliation between us,” said Peres.

Within two hours of Peres’s comments, Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party once again railed against the American administration, albeit in more veiled terms. Speaking at the Jerusalem Conference underway Tuesday in the capital, he criticized those “who are repeating to the public again and again the same slogan of ‘two states for two peoples.’ So let me say again, in a loud and clear voice, to them and to friends across the ocean” – a reference to the Obama administration – “between the Jordan and the sea there will be just one state – the State of Israel.

“These pressures from outside are unfair and won’t bring peace. And I say to our friends across the ocean, don’t threaten us with boycotts and sanctions. The Jewish people won’t surrender its land and won’t surrender its home…. This pressure will not succeed.”

That theme, the accusation that Kerry himself had threatened Israel with boycotts, has been vociferously denied by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief peace envoy, and the US administration itself.

“Secretary Kerry has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well-being, including staunch opposition to boycotts,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Sunday. “Secretary Kerry has always expected opposition and difficult moments in the process, but he also expects all parties to accurately portray his record and statements.”

Livni was even harsher in her condemnation of the critics.

“Some of those who speak harshly against the US secretary of state would lower their eyes in embarrassment if they knew what Kerry has done to prevent these threats and these boycotts,” she said Sunday.

Netanyahu, after speaking to Kerry on Sunday night, said in comments apparently targeted at the right-wing critics that Kerry had unambiguously clarified he opposed such boycotts.

“The peace process is delicate. There may be periods of misunderstandings and disagreements,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “The best way to clarify misunderstandings or express differences of opinion is by substantively discussing the issues and not by engaging in personal attacks.”

On Monday night, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice continued the American response, lashing out at the criticism of Kerry and calling the attacks “totally unfounded and unacceptable.”

In a series of tweets, Rice 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.”

Yoel Goldman and Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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