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Israel Defense Minister Apologizes for Offending Kerry

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon apologized for criticizing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace efforts after the Obama administration condemned his comments as “offensive and inappropriate.”

“Israel and the United States share a common goal of advancing the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry,” Ya’alon said in an e-mailed statement overnight. “The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister.”

Kerry, in Kuwait for a Syria donors conference, told reporters today he wouldn’t let Ya’alon’s comments “undermine” peace efforts. He said he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are “both very committed to moving the process forward and we just can’t let one set of comments undermine that effort and I don’t intend to.”

The Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported yesterday that Ya’alon in a private discussion characterized Kerry as having an obsessive, “messianic” zeal to reach a peace deal.

“The only thing that will ‘save’ us is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us alone,” the newspaper cited him as saying. It did not explain how it obtained the information, and Ya’alon didn’t deny the report.

‘Offensive and Inappropriate’

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said yesterday that the remarks, “if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs.”

Kerry and his team “have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel, because of the Secretary’s deep concern for Israel’s future,” Psaki said in an e-mailed statement. “To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally.”

The diplomatic incident highlights tensions between Israel and the U.S. as Kerry prepares to present Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a blueprint meant to guide talks toward a final peace accord. Netanyahu tried to contain damage by declaring in a speech to parliament that any differences with the U.S. are “not personal.”

‘Not Personal’

“When we do have disagreements with the U.S., they are always on matters of substance, and not personal,” Netanyahu said. “We are working with the president of the United States, with the vice-president who just visited here and with his secretary of state, with the goal of advancing peace, security and regional stability.”

Ya’alon’s remarks drew criticism from fellow cabinet ministers and opposition politicians. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who also serves as chief negotiator with the Palestinians, said in a Facebook post that “it is possible to object responsibly to the negotiations on matters of substance, without lashing out and destroying relations with our best friend.”

Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Labor party, told Israel Radio that Ya’alon’s comments “reveal the true face of Netanyahu’s government.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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