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Israeli leaders cry foul over Kerry's boycott warning

| Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
REUTERS
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 2, 2014. 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. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS)

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 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.

The testy tit-for-tats — which included a tart on-the-record comeback from a State Department spokeswoman — occurred as Kerry prepares to return to the region.

Talk of an Israeli boycott is in the mainstream because actress Scarlett Johannson resigned her post as global ambassador for the anti-poverty group Oxfam last week in order to appear in a Super Bowl commercial on 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 on 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, flailed 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.

At his Sunday morning cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “attempts to impose a boycott on the State of Israel are immoral and unjust” and will not succeed.

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