Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday lambasted several cabinet ministers whose "provocative" comments he said were harming Israel's relations with the United States amid efforts to get the peace process going through indirect proximity talks with the Palestinians.
"I recommend everyone, both we and the Palestinians, avoid rash and provocative statements," said Barak, responding to a slew of comments made by ministers over the last few days regarding the contentious issue of construction in Jerusalem.
"These comments harm Israel's interests, both with regard to the United States and to the international community," said the defense minister. "These remarks make Israel look like it refuses to make peace and to erode Israel's international reputation."
Barak's criticism came just hours after Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared that Israel had never agreed to freeze construction in Jerusalem, adding that such an American demand would never be met. He also vowed to expedite the procedures for construction across Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, the "capital of the Jewish nation's everlasting homeland.
In early May, a U.S. State Department spokesman told reporters that Israel had pledged not to build in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Ramat Shlomo for two years, after a decision to expand Jewish construction there sparked a high-profile row between the allies.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, told Haaretz on Wednesday that Israel's many gestures to the Palestinians have been reciprocated by "slaps in the face."
Speaking to Haaretz by telephone from Japan, Lieberman said: "We took the unilateral step of deciding on a moratorium, a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria. We recognized two states for two peoples. We removed a dramatic number of roadblocks."
Lieberman insisted that no agreement exists to freeze construction in East Jerusalem, that the United States has not dictated anything to Israel. He called the issue "a misunderstanding".
Both Yishai and Lieberman spoke after Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said that the police will continue to demolish illegal homes in East Jerusalem despite the proximity talks with the Palestinians.
The United States, which is mediating the fresh indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, has warned both sides to avoid taking inflammatory actions in Jerusalem.
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