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Is Mideast extremism linked to Israel's occupation?

Israeli ministers infuriated by Kerry's remarks, which suggests that Mideast extremism is fuelled by anger over occupation of Palestine
Naftali Bennett addresses supporters at Kfar Maccabia hotel in Tel Aviv on 22 January, 2013 (AFP)

Fresh tensions between Israeli officials and the United States have reportedly surfaced when America's top diplomat said that peace between Israel and the Palestinians would choke off extremism in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State John Kerry infuriated Israeli ministers Thursday when he said the unresolved conflict was fuelling recruitment for extremists in the region.

"There wasn't a leader I met... who didn't raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation," he said.

On Friday, two senior Israeli cabinet ministers took aim at Kerry over the remarks. 

One said Kerry had set "a new record" in lack of understanding of the region, while the other suggested his comments had anti-Semitic undertones. 

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that "even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian there will always be someone who blames the Jews."

Out of context

Their outbursts drew a sharp retort from State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who said they had taken his comments out of context. 

"It is an inaccurate reading of what the secretary said. He did not make a linkage between Israel and the growth of ISIL, period," Harf told reporters on Friday, using the US acronym for IS.

Either they had misread Kerry's remarks "or someone is engaging in the politics of distortion," she said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon sought to calm the with Washington on Sunday as he began a five-day trip to the United States. 

In a statement released ahead of his departure, Yaalon warned that no dispute should be allowed to "cast a shadow" over Israel's crucial relationship with its closest ally. 

"The relationship between the United States and Israel is based on shared interests and values, and disputes of one sort or another must not cast a shadow over it," he said. 

PLO enters the spat  

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation called Saturday for a comprehensive strategy against Islamic extremism while addressing the conflict with Israel, alluding to Kerry's remarks.

PLO secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo told AFP that "linking the fight against terrorism and the end of the Israeli occupation is a strategic position that we support." 

The PLO is "ready to work hard with the American administration and all regional leaders to develop mechanisms to implement different levels of the strategic direction announced by Kerry," he said, without elaborating.

Abed Rabbo said "those who criticise Kerry want the terrorism of the Islamic State organisation to continue to use it as an excuse to obstruct a political solution and end to the occupation."

"We hope that these balanced American statements will reflect on the Palestinian resolution in the (UN) Security Council that will be proposed in the coming days" to call for the end of Israel's occupation.