JERUSALEM — As U.S. mediated Middle East peace talks enter their seventh month, mounting tensions have emerged between Israel and Washington.
Israeli officials are furious after Secretary of State John Kerry warned that if peace talks with the Palestinians fail, Israel could face growing international boycotts. Kerry was speaking at a security conference in Munich.
“You see for Israel there is an increasing deligitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it," said Kerry. "There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to better with all of that?”
At the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israeli ministers took these remarks as a direct threat: Make concessions to the Palestinians, or pay a heavy price.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel would not negotiate with “a gun pointed at its head,” especially when its vital national interests are at stake.
He described Kerry's remarks “as damaging, unfair and intolerable.”
The State Department issued a clarification saying Kerry’s remarks were taken out of context. It said the Secretary of State staunchly opposes any boycotts against Israel and was only referring to actions taken by others.
The European Union, for instance, has been threatening to boycott products from Jewish settlements, and several European companies have stopped doing business with Israeli companies operating in the West Bank.
At the opening of the Cabinet session, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said international pressure on Israel harms peace efforts because it causes the Palestinians to harden their positions.
“Attempts to impose a boycott on the State of Israel are immoral and unjust,” Netanyahu said, and he said “they will not achieve their goal."
The latest dispute points to growing suspicion in the Israeli government over Kerry’s push for the creation of a Palestinian state. Kerry has visited the region 11 times in the past year, and Cabinet hawks fear that he is forcing Israel into dangerous territorial concessions that would harm national security. Israel’s defense minister made headlines last month when he described Kerry as “messianic” and “obsessive.”