Jerusalem reacted furiously on Thursday to State Department spokesman John Kirby’s statement that Israel is not maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and accusing it of using “disproportionate force” to stop the wave of stabbing attacks.
“The comments by the US State Department spokesman are so crazy, deceitful and baseless, that I expect President [Barack] Obama and US Secretary of State [John] Kerry to distance themselves from them, and to clarify the US position Gilad Erdan said.
Kirby ignited a maelstrom of anger when, during the State Department’s daily press briefing on Wednesday, he was asked numerous questions about the situation in Israel.
Asked about the placement of roadblocks at the entrance to some east Jerusalem neighborhoods that day, Kirby said that Israel has a “right and responsibility to protect its citizens.”
Then he continued, “We’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force. Obviously we don’t like to see that,” adding shortly afterward, “We’re concerned about that.”
Kerry links wave of terrorism in Israel to settlement activity
Erdan told Israel Radio that it was the “height of hypocrisy” for Kirby, who just last week needed to explain the US’s accidental bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan leading to the deaths of 22 people, to “preach” to Israel.
Erdan, in a Twitter message, wrote that “every reasonable person knows very well how the police in the United States would act if terrorists armed with axes and knives would come to kill citizens in New York and Washington.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an Israel Radio interview that Jerusalem heard in the last few days from the US and the UN that it was using disproportionate force. “If someone wields a knife and they kill him, is that excessive force? What are we talking about?” he asked.
And Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked referred to the remarks as well, telling Israel Radio that “if people with knives were roaming the streets of New York and started stabbing people, they would not be asked to present their IDs, and the NYPD would draw their weapons.”
The US administration “can say whatever it wants, and we will do what is needed,” Shaked said.
While Kirby did not walk back these comments, he did take to Twitter to clarify remarks he made at the press briefing that the status quo on the Temple Mount was not being maintained.
“Clarification from today’s briefing: I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif has been broken,” he posted in a message early on Thursday morning.
An hour later he added, “We welcome both Israel’s & Jordan’s commitment to continued maintenance of status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif.”
Asked during the press briefing whether the administration believes the status quo on the Temple Mount has been broken, he replied: “Well, certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”
That the status quo was not being observed, he asserted, is “indisputable. That’s not a belief; that’s a fact.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly over the past few weeks that Israel has not changed the status quo on the Temple Mount, nor has it any intention of doing so, characterizing Arab charges to the contrary as “lies” and “deceit.”
Kirby’s comments came shortly after he tried to clarify comments Kerry made on Tuesday night that also irked Jerusalem, implying that Israel’s settlement construction caused the current outbreak of terrorism.
“What’s happening is that, unless we get going, a two-state solution could conceivably be stolen from everybody,” Kerry said during a speech at Harvard University. “And there’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years, and now you have this violence, because there’s a frustration that is growing.”
Kirby attempted to clarify the secretary’s comments.
“The secretary wasn’t saying, well now you have the settlement activity as the cause for the effect we’re seeing,” Kirby told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“Is it a source of frustration for Palestinians? You bet it is, and the secretary observed that. But this isn’t about affixing blame on either side here for the violence. What we want to see is the violence cease.”
He said that the US position against Israel’s settlement construction is “crystal clear” and remains unchanged.Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.