Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon raised the ire of fellow Israeli politicians and the U.S. State Department on Tuesday, after he was was quoted by the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth calling Secretary of State John Kerry "obsessive and messianic," adding that he hoped Kerry "gets a Nobel Prize and leaves us alone."
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Ya'alon later continued his attack in an address to high school students in Ofakim: "They say time is working against us. We should not be alarmed by all kinds of fear mongering," he said, "we shouldn't get confused, get stressed or give up."
State Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told Haaretzthat Ya'alon's remarks, if accurate, are "offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the U.S. is doing to support Israel's security needs."
"Secretary Kerry and his team, including General John Allen, have been working day and night to try and promote a secure peace for Israel because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future. To question Secretary Kerry's motives and distort his proposal is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally," Psaki said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuted Ya'alon's remarks, saying Israel remained in full cooperation with the U.S.
"The U.S. is our largest partner and the partnership is founded on shared values and interests," Netanyahu said. "Even when there are disagreements between us, they are always substantive and not personal. We work in full cooperation with Vice-President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry to advanced peace and security in the region. We stand firm regarding our own interests, while promoting the important connection between our two countries."
A number of other Israeli leaders, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is on a visit to Geneva, slammed Ya'alon's statements as an "unhelpful" attack on Israel's closest friend.
In a meeting with the city's Jewish community, Lieberman said that "it isn't right and is not helpful to Israel to have a loud and public argument. The U.S. is Israel's bravest ally and has proven it many times over the years. So, there is no place for personal attacks, even if there are occasional differences. "
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni responded to the statements saying Israel's relations with the U.S. are its biggest strategic asset and are essential to its survival."
The U.S. secretary of state is working to end the conflict between the Palestinians and us with a deep understanding that this is in Israel's interest, and [guided by] a commitment to Israel's security," Livni said.
"The negotiations are being conducted while safeguarding Israel's interests – namely its security," she added. "One can oppose the talks responsibly without lashing out and destroying relations with our good friend."
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) also weighed in Defense Minister Ya'alon's remarks, saying they exposes Likud's true colors.
In recent months, Kerry has stressed several times the urgent need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. secretary of state also warned that demographic changes could mean that unless a Palestinian state is established, Israel would no longer be able to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. Kerry has also repeatedly warned that failure of the peace talks could lead to a third intifada and to a wave of boycotts against Israel.
In his remarks to students on Tuesday, Ya'alon added that many in the Arab world think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of the instability in the Middle East, and should thus be resolved as quickly as possible. "I wish there was such a solution to the conflict," he said. "There are things you don't resolve in one stroke, but rather you have to deal with them over time. So, confronted with such a statement – I absolutely deny this. I think the road is long."
The defense minister did not retract his statements as they appeared in Yedioth Aharonoth, nor did he deny them – but he did try to quell the flames. "Even if there are differences between the Americans and us in discussions, they should not overshadow our common objectives and interests," he said.
In a clarification published on Tuesday afternoon, Ya'alon added that "when there are differences we iron them out inside the room, including with Secretary of State Kerry, with whom I hold many talks concerning the future of Israel." He added that the relations between Israel and the U.S. are "intimate and very significant for us. The U.S. is our greatest friend and our most important ally; I will keep safeguarding the security of the citizens of Israel resolutely, responsibly and with discretion."