US reportedly denies Ya’alon request to meet with Kerry, Biden

Meeting with Hagel allowed to go ahead so as not to harm defense ties, US officials quoted saying

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks to Channel 2 on Friday, August 29, 2014. (screen capture: Channel 2)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks to Channel 2 on Friday, August 29, 2014. (screen capture: Channel 2)

A request by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice during his visit to Washington this week was denied by the Obama administration, according to US officials quoted in the Hebrew media.

According to a report in Ynet, the officials said the administration was settling scores with Ya’alon for statements he made in January in which he called Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic” about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which came to an abrupt halt in April. Ya’alon also privately derided Kerry’s security proposals for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank.

The US administration is deeply at odds with Israel, and Israel is now paying the price, commentator Ben Caspit said on Israel’s Channel 10 news Friday night, also citing as a source of anger Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invoking of “American values” to rebuff US criticism of Israeli building in East Jerusalem, and noting the general friction between the two countries over settlements. “We are almost lepers” in Washington, said Caspit.

Not wanting to harm defense ties with Israel, Ya’alon’s meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was allowed to proceed as planned, according to the officials cited in the report.

Ya’alon met with Hagel on Tuesday, during which the defense minister said he voiced Israel’s concerns about the direction of talks between the P5+1 world powers and Iran on its nuclear program. The two also spoke about the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

Before his trip, Ya’alon sought to smooth over another war of words between some US and Israeli officials that erupted last week when Israeli ministers attacked Kerry for remarks ostensibly linking the rise of extremist Islam to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett indicated Kerry was using an anti-Semitic canard, while Communications Minister Gilad Erdan said the secretary showed very little understanding of the region.

Following the remarks, Ya’alon stressed the importance of the US-Israel relationship.

“Relations between the US and Israel are based on shared interests and values, and we can’t let this disagreement or that cast a shadow on them,” he said, hours before he flew to America for a series of meetings.

“America assists Israel in a wide range of fields, including of course security, and we must remember this and thank the US and its leaders for this. There are intimate relationships between the two countries’ security establishments, unprecedented in their scope and in their importance for Israel’s security, and between me and my friend Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel there are close relations.”

Earlier this year, Ya’alon was quoted calling Kerry “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to coax Israelis and Palestinians 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.

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.

Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.

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