JERUSALEM — A chorus of Israeli politicians warned Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Sunday that they would not be bullied into a peace deal with the Palestinians by growing threats of boycott and isolation.
It didn’t seem to matter that Kerry himself wasn’t threatening the Israelis, but appeared to be worrying aloud about what the international reaction might be if U.S.-brokered negotiations to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict collapse.
No matter, umbrage was taken on all sides.
The testy tit-for-tats — which included a tart on-the-record comeback from a State Department spokeswoman — came as Kerry prepares to return to the region in coming weeks. He is expected to bring a proposal for a framework agreement that would be used by both sides to seek solutions to central issues of the conflict, such as borders for a future Palestinian state and what to do about 350,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank.
Talk of an Israeli boycott is in the mainstream because actress Scarlett Johansson resigned her post as global ambassador for the anti-poverty group Oxfam last week in order to appear in a Super Bowl commercial Sunday night for the Israeli company SodaStream, which has a factory in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The U.S.-Israeli flap, between two of the closest allies in the world, began Saturday when Kerry said in Munich that allowing the peace talks to stumble would only incite Israel’s critics, who are pushing for boycotts against Israeli products and institutions in a campaign to isolate and pressure the country to end its occupation of the West Bank.
“You see, for Israel there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There is talk of boycotts and other kinds of things,” Kerry said.
He added: “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”
Israeli economic minister Naftali Bennett, the third-most-powerful figure in the coalition government, attacked Kerry for his linkage of peace and sanctions.
“We expect our friends around the world to stand beside us, against anti-Semitic boycott efforts targeting Israel, and not to be their trumpet,” Bennett said.
“Never has a nation abandoned their land because of economic threats. We are no different. Only security will bring economic stability, not a terrorist state next to Ben Gurion Airport.”
Bennett was referring to Israeli fears that a future Palestinian state in the West Bank could be taken over by the Islamist militant movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, or that anti-Israeli jihadis could smuggle shoulder-fired missiles into the new state and threaten civilian air traffic.
The parliamentarian Tzipi Hotovely said, “Kerry’s unprecedented threats of a boycott are an attempt to terrorize Israel.” The deputy defense minister, Danny Danon, complained that Kerry was putting a gun to Israel’s head.
At his cabinet meeting Sunday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “attempts to impose a boycott on the State of Israel are immoral and unjust” and will not succeed. Netanyahu warned that the boycott threats “cause the Palestinians to adhere to their intransigent positions and thus push peace further away.”
In response, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday that Kerry “has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well-being, including staunch opposition to boycotts.”
She said, “Secretary Kerry has always expected opposition and difficult moments in the process, but he also expects all parties to accurately portray his record and statements.”