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US denies Kerry linked stalled peace talks to rise of IS

Washington says top diplomat’s comments were distorted, slams Bennett’s response; ex-envoy to talks Martin Indyk bashes ‘rightist ministers’ attack’ on Kerry

In this Oct. 2, 2014, photo, Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to media at the State Department in Washington. (Photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)
In this Oct. 2, 2014, photo, Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to media at the State Department in Washington. (Photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The US State Department denied claims Friday that US Secretary of State John Kerry made statements on Thursday suggesting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fueling the spread of Islamic terror in the Middle East.

Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters that Kerry’s comments were distorted for political gains, pointing a finger at Economy Minister Naftali Bennett who had indicated Kerry was using an anti-Semitic canard.

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.”

Former special US envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk lashed out at the Israeli criticism, posting a tweet suggesting that Kerry was only seeking peace in the region.

Indyk stepped down in June, two months after peace talks ground to a halt.

The former envoy drew fire in May after the breakdown of talks for his assessment that settlement construction was a major factor in the failure of negotiations to reach a peace deal in nine months.

In a speech at the Washington Institute shortly after talks froze, Indyk criticized both sides for the failed peace talks.

Speaking at an event marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha at the State Department Thursday, Kerry said it was “imperative” to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, since the conflict was helping the Islamic State recruit new members.

“There wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt –- and I see a lot of heads nodding –- they had to respond to,” he told gathered diplomats.

“People need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity,” he added.

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.”

Gilad Erdan on July 8, 2013. (photo credit: Flash 90)
Gilad Erdan on July 8, 2013. (photo credit: Flash 90)

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.

This is not the first time Kerry has been criticized by members of Israel’s ruling coalition.

In January, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted calling Kerry “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to coax the two sides into a peace agreement. Ya’alon said Kerry has “nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians.

“All that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace,” Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted him saying at the time.

John Kerry, right, meeting with Moshe Ya'alon in Jerusalem in May, 2013. (photo credit: US State Department)
John Kerry, right, meeting with Moshe Ya’alon in Jerusalem in May, 2013. (photo credit: US State Department)

Those comments sparked a mini diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Washington, with the State Department calling the comments “offensive and inappropriate” and Ya’alon issuing an apology.

Relations between Washington and Jerusalem, which counts the US as its most important ally, have hit regular road bumps over the last several years and the administrations have aired differences over peace talks, settlement building, Iran’s nuclear program and other issues.

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