JERUSALEM: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is holding a gun to Israel’s head in peace talks with the Palestinians by warning it could face international isolation if negotiations failed, a senior cabinet minister said on Sunday. The remarks by Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed recent accusations by Israel’s defense minister that Kerry was being “messianic” in his pursuit of a peace deal. Kerry, in a discussion at a Munich security forum on Saturday, touched a nerve in Israel by pointing to “an increasing de-legitimization” campaign building up against it internationally and “talk of boycotts” if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not end. “Are we all going to be better with all of that?” asked Kerry, who is seeking to seal a framework agreement soon that will set a path toward a final accord on peace and Palestinian statehood. Steinitz seized on the top U.S. diplomat’s remarks as a threat against Israel that would only encourage the Palestinians to harden their positions in the six-month-old negotiations, which have shown few signs of progress. “The things … Kerry said are hurtful, they are unfair and they are intolerable,” Steinitz told reporters. “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a gun to its head when we are discussing the matters which are most critical to our national interests.” Netanyahu, in public remarks at the weekly meeting of his cabinet, was more guarded – making no direct mention of Kerry, who is trying to reach a framework deal for a final agreement. But, calling any attempts to impose a boycott on Israel “immoral and unjustified”, Netanyahu said: “No pressure will cause me to forfeit the State of Israel’s vital interests, chiefly the security of its citizens.” Netanyahu is facing pressure from another direction – ultranationalists within his coalition government – to oppose any evacuation of Jewish settlements from Israeli-occupied land Palestinians seek for a future state.
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