Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at prime minister's Jerusalem office in October. Yaalon is being criticized for saying US Secretary of State John Kerry's security plan was 'not worth the paper it was written on.' (Abir Sultan / AFP)
JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of an “incomprehensible obsession” with the Middle East conflict, drawing a public rebuke from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon came in for a barrage of criticism after Israel’s top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot quoted him as saying a security plan Kerry presented was “not worth the paper it was written on.”
Yaalon expressed hope that Kerry, who has visited the region 10 times since taking over as secretary of state in February 2013, would end his peace push and focus his energies elsewhere.
“The American plan for security arrangements that was shown to us isn’t worth the paper it was written on,” Yaalon was quoted as saying in private conversations with Israeli officials, accusing Kerry of being naive and implying he is a nuisance.
“It provides neither security nor peace.”
Kerry coaxed Israelis and Palestinians back into direct negotiations last summer and has since shuttled tirelessly between the two leaderships in a bid to keep the talks alive.
His proposals include a security plan for the border between a future Palestinian state and neighboring Jordan, involving high-tech equipment and early warning stations in the Jordan Valley to enable Israel to reduce or end its troop presence on the ground, Israeli media say.
But Yaalon said the idea of technology replacing boots on the ground was naive.
“What are you talking about?” he reportedly asked Kerry during a meeting. “I ask you: how will technology respond when a Salafist or Islamic Jihad cell tries to commit a terror attack against Israeli targets? Who will engage them?”
Yaalon said after years of living the conflict, he understood a lot more about the Palestinians than the US top diplomat.
“Secretary of State John Kerry — who arrived here determined, and who operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism — can’t teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians,” he was quoted as saying.
“The only thing that might save us is if John Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us be.”
Netanyahu chided Yaalon at the opening of parliament’s winter session.
“Even when we have disagreements with the United States, it is about the matter at hand and not about the person,” he said.
Other cabinet members also criticised Yaalon.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told army radio that while he agreed with the “content” of Yaalon’s remarks, the defense minister should avoid “personal insults.”
Writing on Facebook, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, said: “We can oppose negotiations in a responsible and measured way, without compromising relations with our best friend.”
While the peace talks have been under way, Israel has pressed ahead with plans to expand its settlements in the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, drawing criticism from Kerry and other US officials.
Just last week, Israel unveiled plans to build another 1,800 new settler homes, hot on the heels of Kerry’s latest visit, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation warned late Monday that the settlement drive was jeopardizing his peace push.
“The peace process is faltering because of the Israeli government’s unprecedented settlement building,” a PLO statement said.
A senior US official reiterated Washington’s opposition to settlement building, which it has called “illegitimate.”
“Our position on settlements has not changed, and we have consistently communicated our objection both publicly and directly to the Israelis on settlement announcements,” the official said.
“We have also not coordinated or agreed to any settlement announcements.”
The PLO said it was drawing up plans to apply for Palestinian membership of international organizations.
The Palestinians had pledged to hold off on moves to join international bodies for the agreed nine-month timeframe of the peace talks, which ends in April despite few tangible signs of progress so far.