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Netanyahu criticizes Kerry over boycott remarks

Later, US officials clarify remarks

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and some of his senior ministers on Sunday strongly criticized those who are threatening a boycott of Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians. It was a sharp retort to Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned a day earlier that the risk of boycotts would intensify if the current peace effort fails.

In a swift response to the Israeli criticism, the State Department said Kerry had always opposed calls for boycotts and expected “all parties to accurately portray his record and statements.”

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The heated exchange comes as the Obama administration prepares to complete and present a “framework” accord in the coming weeks, which would be a first step toward a comprehensive agreement and serve as a basis for a continuation of negotiations.

“Attempts to impose a boycott on the State of Israel are immoral and unjust,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting here.

“Moreover,” he continued, “they will not achieve their goal. First, they cause the Palestinians to adhere to their intransigent positions and thus push peace further away. Second, no pressure will cause me to concede the vital interests of the State of Israel, especially the security of Israel’s citizens. For both of these reasons, threats to boycott the State of Israel will not achieve their goal.”

Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, was more direct in his criticism of Kerry. He told Israel Radio on Sunday that Kerry’s remarks were “hurtful,” “unfair,” and “intolerable” and said, “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a gun to its head.”

The dispute clearly touched raw nerves on both sides. Soon after the Israeli remarks were broadcast, Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, issued an unusually pointed statement.

“Secretary 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.

“At the Munich Security Conference yesterday, he spoke forcefully in defense of Israel’s interests, as he consistently has throughout his public life.,’’ Psaki said “In response to a question about the peace process, he also described some well-known and previously stated facts about what is at stake for both sides if this process fails, including the consequences for the Palestinians.’’

“His only reference to a boycott was a description of actions undertaken by others that he has always opposed,” she added.

Speaking Saturday at the Munich Security Conference about the risks of a failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Kerry said: “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary.”

He added, “You see for Israel, there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things.”

Concern is growing in Israel about a growing boycott movement against its companies. Some European supermarket chains are already shunning agricultural produce from Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

PGGM, a large Dutch pension fund management company, recently decided to withdraw all its investments from Israel’s five largest banks because they have branches in West Bank settlements or are involved in financing settlement construction.

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