U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are at odds over Israel, NRG/Maariv reported on Wednesday.
According to the report, the reason for the tension is Obama’s remarks in the interview this week with Jeffrey Goldberg, which Kerry saw as being too critical of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In the interview, which was made public a day before Netanyahu’s visit to the White House, Obama warned that time was running out to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and the PA, and claimed that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas “is sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist.”
“When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation,” Obama told Goldberg. “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?”
According to NRG/Maariv, Kerry’s associates said that Obama’s comments sabotaged Kerry’s efforts to secure peace between Israel and the PA.
Two sources, one in Washington and one in Jerusalem, told the Israeli daily that the White House did not inform Kerry in advance that the interview was taking place.
"Obama’s interview, done without Kerry’s knowledge and which personally attacked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, undermines Kerry’s efforts," said one source.
The second source said, "Kerry's greatest fear is that the interview hurt the confidence of Netanyahu and the Israeli public opinion in the U.S. government efforts to secure peace."
Goldberg himself was quoted by NRG/Maariv as having explained that the interview was probably an attempt to show Abbas, who has expressed anger that Kerry’s framework is biased in favor of Israel, that Obama is also pressuring Netanyahu. Obama plans to place similar pressure on Abbas when he visits the White House on March 17, said Goldberg.
Kerry has worked very hard to appeal directly to the Israeli public over his push for peace. This effort included a recent television interview with journalist Ilana Dayan, in which he hinted that Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria may not be evicted from their homes when an agreement is signed.
Kerry has remained optimistic about the talks throughout the process, stating in December that a deal was "close" despite ongoing complications and dispute over the terms from both the PA and Israel.
Meanwhile, White House officials said the tone of Monday's talks between Obama and Netanyahu was not unfriendly despite Obama’s comments in the interview with Goldberg.
In fact, the officials said, Obama committed to Netanyahu that he would push the PA to match any Israeli concessions as part of a future peace deal.