The U.S. State Department on Friday dismissed criticism by Israeli ministers of remarks made by U.S. State Secretary John Kerry, who tied said that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would contribute to the fight against the Islamic State group.
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State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf hit back at Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and accused him of distorting Kerry's comments for his own political gain.
Harf said Washington was aware of reactions by senior Israelis, "especially one particular minister." Their response, she said, stems from an "inaccurate reading" of Kerry's comments.
"We passions run high," Harf said. "Either he didn't read what the secretary said, or someone gave him the wrong information The secretary thinks that what you say matters and not how someone tries to distort it for their political purposes."
As in other unsuccessful incidents in the past involving remarks by Kerry, the U.S. State Department's press office went into damage control, providing clarifications and explanations for the secretary's comments. Harf insisted that Kerry did not link the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians to the rise of Islamic State, but merely that solving the conflict could have a stabilizing impact on the region.
"Previous U.S. presidents and secretaries of state have said this before," she noted.
Kerry said late on Thursday that the struggle to reach a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be viewed within the context of the fight against extremism such as is personified by the Islamic State group.
"[T]here wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt," Kerry said at a State Department ceremony marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Bennett slammed Kerry in response. "It turns out that even when a British Muslim decapitates a British Christian, there will always be someone to blame the Jew," he said. "To say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is strengthening the Islamic State is encouraging global terror."
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan joined Bennett, saying that "Kerry is breaking records for a lack of understanding of what is going on in our region and the essence of the conflicts therein."