The State Department on Thursday defended controversial comments by Secretary of State John Kerry after he warned Israel that it would be to blame for a "third intifada" and its own "isolation" should a peace deal with the Palestinians fall through.
Kerry has been in the Middle East this week pushing for renewed peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians amid an uptick in terrorism and violence.
In comments that some pro-Israel leaders deemed dangerous, Kerry warned the Israelis that "the alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos."
"I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?" Kerry asked, referring to past Palestinian uprisings that have killed many Israeli citizens and soldiers.
"If we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel," the AP quoted Kerry as saying in an interview with Israeli television.
"There will be an increasing campaign of de-legitimization of Israel [that] has been taking place in an international basis," he said, adding that if Israel does not make a deal, "you may wind up with [a Palestinian] leadership that is committed to violence."
Pro-Israel leaders, Middle East experts, and even some observers on Capitol Hill said that Kerry’s comments unfairly singled out Israel and only encourage Palestinian violence.
Kerry’s remarks are "utterly irresponsible," according to Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert who studies the region for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
"It is almost an invitation for the Palestinians to engage in violence if and when talks fail," he said. "It also looks like a way of blaming the Israelis in advance for the security collapse we've been warning about as a result of failed talks."
A State Department official defended Kerry’s stance when contacted late Thursday by the Washington Free Beacon.
"The secretary has been clear from the beginning of this process that part of the reason he is so committed to these efforts is because the continued absence of peace has many negative consequences," a State Department official told the Free Beacon after being asked to clarify Kerry’s remarks.
"As time passes, the situation on the ground becomes more complicated, mistrust deepens and hardens, and the conflict becomes even harder to resolve," the official said. "It allows for vacuums to be filled by bad actors who want to undermine our efforts."
"And the secretary has also spoken out many times not only about the potential negative impacts of not achieving peace, but the substantial positive impact for all that a peace agreement would provide," according to the official. "That is where we are focused."
However, some pro-Israel leaders and observers on Capitol Hill said that Kerry’s warning to Israel is indefensible.
"Putting Israel alone at fault for the stalled negotiations only fuels the dangerous narrative of Israel as the uncompromising aggressor and the Palestinians as the blameless victims," said one senior GOP House aide who works on Middle East issues.
"It’s disappointing that Secretary Kerry has capitulated to President Obama’s distorted understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the aide said. "He knows that no country has made greater sacrifices for peace than Israel."
Kerry also "knows that the problem has never been about the creation of a Palestinian state, but instead about the existence of a Jewish state," the source said. "And he knows that if these talks fail, as they have in the past, it’s because the Palestinians simply won’t accept any solution in which Israel maintains a Jewish identity."
A longtime pro-Israel official who saw Kerry’s remarks said that U.S. actions in the Middle East have not benefited Israel.
"The truth is, Israel already stands alone—and John Kerry's appearance in Geneva today will only underscore that reality," said the leader, referring to Kerry’s presence at the latest round of nuclear talks with Iran.
Palestinians violence in Israel has been on the rise.
A firebomb thrown by Palestinians at an Israeli car wounded a mother and her daughter on Friday, Haaretz reported.
Kerry’s visit to the region took place as Western negotiators geared up for another round of nuclear talks with Iran. Reports suggest that the two sides could be close to a deal, the details of which have not been revealed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Friday that the West is falling for an Iranian ploy.
"I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva—as well they should be because they got everything and paid nothing," Netanyahu told reporters, according to Israel Hayom. "Everything they wanted; they wanted relief of sanctions after years of a grueling sanctions regime, they got that. They are paying nothing because they are not reducing in any way their nuclear enrichment capability."
Israel will not be bound to any agreement reached in Geneva, Netanyahu said.
"Israel utterly rejects [the deal] and what I am saying is shared by many in the region, whether or not they express that publicly," he said. "Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and the security of its people."