JERUSALEM — A senior Israeli Cabinet minister on Wednesday called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's planned Mideast policy speech a "pathetic step," further heightening tensions between the two close allies as the Obama administration prepares to leave office.
The comments by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan were the latest salvo in a toxic exchange following the U.S.'s refusal to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that called Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem a violation of international law. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed the resolution, and accused the U.S. of colluding with the Palestinians in drawing it up.
Following up on the U.N. resolution, Kerry was scheduled to deliver a farewell speech in Washington on Wednesday 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 Mideast peace. Israeli officials fear that the conference's recommendations may then be approved in another U.N. Security Council resolution just before Obama leaves office on Jan. 20.
In a radio interview, Erdan said Kerry's speech was part of a broader effort to hinder the incoming administration of Donald Trump, who has signaled he will have much warmer relations with Israel.
"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," Erdan told Israel Army Radio.
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."
Kerry mediated a nine-month round of peace talks that broke down in early 2014 with little progress.
Israeli leaders have made no secret that they are counting on Trump to change U.S. policy. While Trump has not outlined a vision, he has signaled a much more sympathetic approach toward Israel, appointing an ambassador with strong ties to the West Bank settler movement and promising to move the U.S. 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.
Netanyahu says 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, 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 told The Associated Press that Netanyahu asked to delay Wednesday's vote so as not to antagonize relations with the U.S.
Meanwhile, a senior leader of the West Bank settlement movement called Kerry a "stain on American foreign policy" and "ignorant of the issues."
Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, said 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.