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In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Yaalon’s comments, if accurate, were "offensive and inappropriate," given everything the U.S. is doing to support Mideast peace efforts. He said Kerry and his team have been working nonstop because the U.S. is deeply concerned about and committed to Israel’s future.
"To question Secretary Kerry’s motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally," Carney said.
It was the latest twist in what has frequently been a strained relationship between Netanyahu and the Obama White House. The two leaders have appeared uncomfortable together and often disagreed over issues like Israeli settlement construction on lands claimed by the Palestinians and American positions on the peace talks with the Palestinians. During one recent visit, Kerry said settlement construction raises questions about Israel’s commitment to peace in comments broadcast on national TV.
Netanyahu has also been an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program, saying they don’t go far enough.
In a speech at parliament marking the body’s 65th anniversary Monday, Netanyahu appeared to distance himself from his defense minister. "The United States is our great ally," he said. "Even when we have disagreements there are always related to an issue, not a person."
President Shimon Peres also devoted his comments at the ceremony to the strong bond with the U.S. "The unusual determination of Secretary of State Kerry to reach peace reflects and serves Israel’s deep desire for peace and a chance to mutual understanding," he said.
But dovish leaders took harsh aim at Yaalon, saying he had caused damage to the country’s most important relationship. Isaac Herzog invoked the name of Yitzhak Rabin, the former prime minister who was assassinated in 1995 by an ultranationalist Jew opposed to his peace efforts with the Palestinians.
"We will always remember the strong bond with the United States that Yitzhak Rabin believed in. He knew to give respect to our friends and supporters overseas and never call them messianic, strange and obsessive or any other offensive names," he said.
Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Deb Riechmann in Washington and Lara Jakes in Rome contributed to this report.
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