US anger at Israel Kerry 'comment'

Moshe Yaalon (left) and John Kerry (2nd right) during a meeting in Jerusalem. Photo: May 2013 John Kerry has recently met a number of top Israeli officials, including Moshe Yaalon, far left

The US has condemned as "offensive" comments by Israel's defence minister about Secretary of State John Kerry's Middle East peace proposals.

Moshe Yaalon was quoted by an Israeli newspaper as saying Mr Kerry was acting out of "misplaced obsession and messianic fervour".

He later issued an apology, saying he "had no intention to cause offence".

The White House said the alleged comments were "inappropriate" given America's support to Israel's security.

It was a rare rebuke to America's ally.

A statement issued by Mr Yaalon's office said: "The defence minister... apologises if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister."

Israel and the US shared "a common goal" of advancing peace talks with the Palestinians, the statement said.

"We appreciate Secretary Kerry's many efforts towards that end."

'Framework' plan

Mr Yaalon's alleged comments were first published by Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

He said a security plan Mr Kerry had presented to Israel was "not worth the paper it was written on".

"John Kerry - who has come to us determined and is acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and messianic fervour - cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians," he was quoted as saying.

Israeli-Palestinian talks

  • Palestinian team leaders: Saeb Erekat and Muhammed Shtayyeh
  • Israeli team leaders: Tzipi Livni and Isaac Molcho
  • US mediators: Martin Indyk and Frank Lowenstein
  • Key issues: Status of Jerusalem; borders; security arrangements; settlements and possible land swaps; Palestinian refugees

Mr Yaalon made his comments in private conversations in Israel and the US, the Israeli newspaper said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney accused the minister of misrepresenting Mr Kerry's proposals.

"Secretary Kerry and his team have been working non-stop in their efforts to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the deep concern the United States has, and the deep commitment the United States has for and to Israel's future and the Israeli people.

"To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defence minister of a close ally."

Mr Yaalon's comments also drew criticism from Mr Netanyahu.

"Even when we have disagreements with the United States, they always pertain to the matter at hand, and are not personal," Mr Netanyahu said in parliament, referring to Mr Yaalon, a member of his right-wing Likud party.

Mr Kerry has made a series of visits to the Middle East in recent months in an attempt to inject momentum into Israeli-Palestinian peace talks re-launched last July.

But the talks have so far shown little sign of progress.

Earlier this month, Mr Kerry held talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives in an effort to secure a "framework" for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

He hoped to achieve consensus on core issues - including security, borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees - so progress could be made towards signing a comprehensive treaty by April, US officials said.

Mr Kerry's peace proposals reportedly include security arrangements in the Jordan Valley - between a future Palestinian state and Jordan.

However, Israel is said to be demanding that it maintains a military presence under any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

While the peace talks have been continuing, Israel last week announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said it showed "Israel's clear commitment to the destruction of peace efforts".

A dispute over settlement construction led to the collapse of the last peace talks.

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

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