US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday appeared to blame Israel for exploding a deal that would have extended negotiations with the Palestinians for another nine months.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki immediately tried to allay any misunderstandings of Kerry’s stance and explained that both Israel and the Palestinians were culpable.
“As has been the case throughout this impasse, today, Secretary Kerry was again crystal clear that both sides have taken unhelpful steps and at no point has he engaged in a blame game,” Psaki said.
“Today he even singled out by name Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu for having made courageous decisions throughout the process. Now it is up to the parties and their leaders to determine whether we maintain a productive path,” Psaki said.
The issue being debated was announcement of tenders for 700 new homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, Kerry explained to the US Senate Committee of Foreign Relations.
Kerry walked committee members through the steps that led to last week’s crisis in the talks, which began with a decision by Israel to delay a promised release of 26 Palestinian prisoners — involved in past terror attacks — unless the negotiations continued beyond the April 29 end-date.
Both sides worked toward a deal to make that happen, Kerry said.
“A day went by. Day two went by. Day three went by. And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was the moment,” Kerry said.
But Economic Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) heard the negative implications in Kerry’s comments and responded immediately.
"Israel will never apologize for building in Jerusalem,” Bennett said. As he continued with his statement, he substituted the word “boom” for Kerry’s more tempered phrase, “poof.”
Bennett stated: "I heard he [Kerry] defined the construction in Jerusalem as a 'boom.' For many years people tried to use booms and explosions to prevent us from living in the eternal capital of the Jewish people, but it won't happen.”
"Building in Jerusalem isn't a 'boom,' it's Zionism," he added.
On Saturday night, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni gave a narrative similar to Kerry’s when describing how the talks fell apart. She blamed Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, whose office published the tenders, as well as his Bayit Yehudi party.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel said on Tuesday night that Kerry’s comments were predictable. "When there are ministers who take the trouble to mention 1,000 times that we're at fault, people on the other side of the ocean listen and repeat those things."
Neither Livni or Netanyahu responded to Kerry’s comments. An Israeli official noted, however, that in every past peace plan it was understood that Gilo would remain within Israel’s borders. He noted that these particular tenders had already been published in the past, and were republished last week.
He spoke hours before he was scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama to discuss his country’s future involvement in the peace process. On Wednesday, Kerry is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in Washington.