The US government has responded bluntly to Theresa May's comments about Israel

LONDON — The US government has reacted bluntly to Theresa May’s claim that it was “inappropriate” for John Kerry to describe the Israeli government as one of the most “right-wing” in the country’s history.

A spokesperson for the US state department said they were “surprised” that the UK had reacted negatively to Kerry’s speech when it had received “strongly supportive” comments from other allies.

Theresa May distanced the UK from comments US Secretary of State Kerry made following the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passing a resolution which criticised Israel for continuing to build settlements in the occupied territories.

In a robust speech delivered earlier this week, Kerry said the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government towards neighbouring Palestine were driven by “the most extreme elements” and added that “the status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation”.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said on Thursday that Kerry’s comments were not “appropriate”.

In a full statement, a spokesperson said: “We do not believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex.

“And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically-elected government of an ally. The Government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

A few hours later, a spokesperson for the US state department released an official rebuke to May, claiming the US administration was “surprised” by the prime minister’s remark given the UK’s stance towards the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“We are surprised by the UK Prime Minister’s office statement given that Secretary Kerry’s remarks — which covered the full range of threats to a two-state solution, including terrorism, violence, incitement and settlements — were in-line with the UK’s own longstanding policy and its vote at the United Nations last week.”

The statement then thanked a host of nations for their “strongly supportive” responses to Kerry’s statement, in what appeared to be a thinly-veiled dig at the UK government.

It said: “We are grateful for the strongly supportive statements in response to Secretary Kerry’s speech from across the world, including Germany, France, Canada, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others.”

The decision of the US not to veto the resolution allowed it to pass, representing a significant moment in the relationship between the US and Israel, which for decades has been one of the closest between any two nations.

The UK went a step further than the US and voted in favour of the resolution, reaffirming the country’s stance that a peace in the region can only be brought about by a “two-state solution” based on both a sovereign Israel and Palestine.

However, the prime minister’s office was keen to stress that settlement building is not the sole cause of conflict.

“We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal, which is why we supported UN Security Council Resolution 2334 last week,” May’s spokesperson added.

“But we are also clear that the settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

Netanyahu accused Barack Obama’s government of being complicit in the UN resolution and said that Kerry’s comments “paid lip service to the unremitting Palestinian campaign of terrorism” against Israel.

May’s comments appear to align her with the incoming US president Donald Trump. Trump has stated that the US must show total “respect” to Israel in future.

President-elect Donald Trump made an intervention of his own earlier this week, tweeting that Israel should “stay strong” and that the US should not allow its long-standing strategic and cultural ally to be treated with “total disdain and disrespect”.

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