Two top ministers lashed out on Thursday at American officials for what they described as equivocation over Palestinian terror attacks and a US State Department statement that appeared to accept accusations that Israel has used excessive force in recent days.
Within minutes of the comments by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon Thursday morning, a top Prime Minister’s Office official informed cabinet ministers that they were being ordered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cease all public criticism of American officials.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and a spokesman for the department have in recent days appeared to link or equate a spate of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis with Israeli policies in the West Bank and on the Temple Mount, a position Erdan called “idiotic.”
“I don’t know whether to call them naive, in the US State Department and in the American government,” a visibly angry Erdan, who oversees the police forces battling the terror wave, told Army Radio Thursday morning. “Instead of putting out idiotic declarations that pretend to address two equally guilty sides, they [should] focus pressure on the murderous, inciting Palestinian Authority; because of its incitement, young people go out and commit murderous acts.”
On Wednesday, in response to Palestinian complaints about Israeli actions in recent days, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the US had “seen some reports of security activity that could indicate the potential excessive use of force.” He did not elaborate on the incidents in question, and it was unclear if he was referring to Israel’s handling of Palestinian rioting or the shooting of knife-wielding Palestinian assailants — which many Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have claimed is excessive.
The State Department, Kirby said, is “always concerned about credible reports of excessive use of force against civilians, and we routinely raise our concerns about that.”
Kirby’s comment “is disturbing,” Erdan said. “I expect — not from the State Department, which is traditionally hostile to Israel — I expect the American government to give its view on the issue. I don’t make any comparisons between our actions and those of the American army, but I saw the Americans stuttering not long ago when in their own military operation in Afghanistan innocent civilians were hurt and killed.”
He added: “The State of Israel understands the complexity of the struggle against terror. Still, [for American officials] to allow themselves to be taken in by lies that are presented to the American State Department is very strange, amateurish or worse, especially when there is footage from all of these events.”
Israel’s police force “doesn’t go after innocent people. The Israel Police and Israeli civilians are carrying out defensive, life-saving actions within the bounds of the law, and these things are manifest and well-known,” Erdan said.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry refused to say where the “blame” for the latest terror wave lies. While the top American diplomat condemned the terror attacks committed that day that left three Israelis dead, he insisted, “I am not going to point fingers from afar. This is a revolving cycle that damages the future for everybody.”
He also seemed to link the terror wave to Israeli settlement construction.
In an interview with Army Radio Thursday morning, Ya’alon criticized the State Department’s “concept of the conflict.”
“They once said that because of this conflict the Middle East is burning. It’s silly. Someone who says it today is ignored.”
The latest comments about blame are similar, said Ya’alon. “[PA President Mahmoud] Abbas has been running away from negotiations for six years. They want to say both sides are equally at fault? Okay. That’s not going to frighten us.”
He also criticized the suggestion that Israeli forces were using excessive force — at least in reference to Palestinian terror attacks.
“We’re using excessive force? If someone raises a knife [to stab] and is shot, that’s excessive force? What are we talking about? I have meet American generals, and generals from around the world, who talk about our high standards,” Ya’alon said.
The interviews, coming as Kerry is planning a trip to region in a bid to calm tensions and possible convene a high-level diplomatic summit in Jordan, drew a quick response from Netanyahu’s office, which forbade other ministers from criticizing Washington.
Ya’alon in particular has been a harsh critic of Kerry in the past, adding to tensions between Washington and Jerusalem.
Erdan told Army Radio that Netanyahu should not agree to meet with Abbas if such a summit is convened.
“We would very much like to renew the negotiations with the Palestinians,” Erdan said, “but I think that as of Wednesday night, it’s clear to all of Israel’s citizens, on left and right, that Abbas has to go, that the only chance [for peace], maybe, is if a new leadership develops there.”
On Wednesday night, Abbas gave a speech in which he accused Israel of “executing” a teen stabber Ahmend Mansara “in cold blood,” and blamed Israeli “rejectionism” for the round of violence. Israeli politicians accused Abbas of lying, pointing out that 13-year-old Mansara, witnessed stabbing two people on Tuesday, was alive and being treated in an Israeli hospital after being hit by a car while trying to flee the scene of his attack.
Police on Wednesday released video footage showing the attack.
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.