A day after saying Israeli critics of his policies would not intimidate him, US Secretary of State John Kerry made clear on Thursday whose voice he thinks should be heard more in Israel: Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s.
Lapid speaks courageously about peace, Kerry said in a meeting with Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah in Washington.
“That voice needs to be heard well in Israel,” the secretary of state added, according to Shelah.
The night before, in a CNN interview, Kerry – who was sharply criticized in Israel for comments he made on Saturday that some interpreted as encouraging, if only inadvertently, boycotts of Israel – pushed back.
In a reference to his days as a naval officer in Vietnam, Kerry said he had been “attacked before by people using real bullets, not words, and I am not going to be intimidated. I am not going to stand down with respect to President Obama’s commitment to try to find peace in the Middle East.”
Kerry said his boycott comments “need to be properly represented, not distorted. I did not do anything except cite what other people are talking about as a problem, but I also have always opposed boycotts. I have a 100 percent voting record in support of Israel for 29 years in the United States Senate.”
The secretary of state told CNN there were “some people in Israel and in Palestine and in the Arab world and around the world who don’t support the peace process.
There are specifically some people who don’t support two states. There are some people who don’t want any restraint on settlements whatsoever. What’s important is to look at the positive side of this, which is, the majority of the people in Israel, the majority of the Palestinians, the majority of the people in the region believe in peace and want peace, and believe peace will strengthen everybody.”
Shelah told Kerry that his party – which Lapid heads – “is the biggest and strongest basis of support for progress in the peace process in the Israeli government.
“Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu knows that if the process moves forward, we will stand behind him and ensure him a majority in the Knesset and the public,” he said.
Shelah and Kerry spoke during a breakfast meeting with parliamentarians from around the world, featuring Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and members of the US Congress.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, meanwhile, told reporters that the top US diplomat considered the past week’s verbal attacks on him an assault on the peace process itself.
“He knows that trying to create peace isn’t a favor,” Psaki said. “So while he has a tough skin and he’s been through a lot more difficult circumstances than having personal verbal attacks thrown at him, he is – he wants the focus to be on these tough issues.”
Obama also defended Kerry at the breakfast, praising his efforts in the ongoing talks.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank Secretary Kerry for his extraordinary passion and principled diplomacy that he’s brought to the cause of peace in the Middle East. Thank you, John,” Obama said, to much applause from those in attendance.
One of the secretary of state’s loudest critics, Economy Minister and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, was not deterred and continued his assault on Kerry’s policies on Thursday, accusing Washington of making mistakes in regional diplomatic efforts that have lead to threats to Israeli security.
“Wrong decisions” made by Washington over the years on the Israeli-Palestinian track played a part in producing the rain of missile attacks from Gaza on southern Israel, he told Israel Radio.
US insistence on holding legislative elections in the Palestinian Authority led to Hamas’s victory in 2006 and subsequently to the deluge of rockets striking southern Israel, Bennett said.
Stressing both that he had nothing against Kerry, and the importance of the strong relationship with the US, Bennett said that only the IDF could be relied on to defend Israel, and not a NATO force or Palestinian police.
He added that any peace agreement reached by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would be brought to a referendum for final approval.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua, meanwhile, seemed to be referring to Bennett when during a speech at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan on Thursday she blasted “hypocrites” whose actions could threaten to derail the diplomatic process.
There are critics in the government who claim to support peace, but in actuality use the argument of security as a cover for ideological opposition to a peace agreement, the chief Israeli negotiator said.
“I don’t like hypocrites,” she declared. “I don’t like people who don’t tell you the truth, those who say that they don’t like what is in the Kerry document, or what will be [in it], but do not tell you the truth that it does not matter what is there. They will object to any concession on any part of the Land of Israel.”
Livni defended the secretary of state during the speech, slamming what she called the right wing’s new pastime: seeing who can “curse Kerry more.” Livni lauded Kerry for strongly defending Israeli interests in the international arena.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud Beytenu), who on Sunday called Kerry’s boycott comments “offensive and unacceptable,” told Israel Radio the secretary of state’s words were widely interpreted as a “camouflaged threat,” and that he was pleased the US diplomat “clarified his remarks” and made clear his opposition to boycotts.
“We need to tell the truth: there are sometimes arguments between friends, and sometimes sharp disagreements between us and the US,” Steinitz said. “Kerry for many years has defined himself as a friend of Israel, and even if we have arguments occasionally, there is no reason to doubt his friendship toward Israel.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.