A senior member of the Israeli government has called US secretary of state John Kerry’s planned Middle East policy speech a “pathetic move”, heightening tensions between the two close allies as the Obama administration prepares to leave office.
The comments by Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan are the latest salvo in a toxic exchange following America’s refusal to veto a UN Security Council resolution last week which called Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem a violation of international law.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bitterly criticised the resolution, and accused the US of colluding with the Palestinians in drawing it up.
Following up on the UN resolution, Mr Kerry is scheduled to deliver a farewell speech in Washington to outline his proposals for a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Next month, France is set to host an international conference where 70 countries, over Israeli objections, hope to endorse an international framework for peace in the region. Israeli officials fear that the conference’s recommendations may then be approved in another UN Security Council recommendation just before US president Barack Obama leaves office on January 20.
In a radio interview, Mr Erdan said John Kerry’s speech was part of a broader effort to hinder the incoming administration of Donald Trump, who has signalled he will have much warmer relations with Israel.
Mr Erdan told Israel Army Radio: “This step is a pathetic step. It is an anti-democratic step because it’s clear that the administration and Kerry’s intention is to chain President-elect Trump.”
Mr Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and inner Security Cabinet, said Obama administration officials are “pro-Palestinian” and “don’t understand what’s happening in the Middle East”.
Mr Kerry mediated a nine-month round of peace talks which broke down in early 2014 with little progress.
Israeli leaders have made no secret that they are counting on Donald Trump to change the US policy in the region.
While Mr Trump has not outlined a vision, he has signalled a much more sympathetic approach toward Israel, appointing an ambassador with strong ties to the West Bank settler movement and promising to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, over Palestinian objections.
The international community overwhelmingly opposes Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians for an independent state.
The Palestinians, and most of the world, see settlements, now home to 600,000 Israelis, as an obstacle to peace. Mr Netanyahu said the conflict with the Palestinians, including the fate of the settlements, must be resolved through direct negotiations and says that international dictates undermine the negotiating process.
Despite the Israeli anger, Mr Netanyahu ordered a Jerusalem planning committee to delay a vote on approving construction of some 500 new homes in Jewish developments of east Jerusalem, a city councilman said.
Council member Hanan Rubin said Benjamin Netanyahu asked to delay the vote so as not to antagonise relations with the US.
Meanwhile, a senior leader of the West Bank settlement movement called Mr Kerry a “stain on American foreign policy” and “ignorant of the issues”.
Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, said Mr Kerry is “the worst secretary of state in history” who “chose to stab his closest ally in the back” and knows little about the realities of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.