(CNSNews.com) – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took issue Thursday with comments by Secretary of State John Kerry appearing to link the wave of terrorist attacks in Israel to Israeli construction in the disputed territories, and noted that the killers themselves were citing an unrelated issue – the Temple Mount – as their motivation.
Eight Israelis have been killed and 70 injured in two dozen knife and gun attacks over the past month.
Netanyahu accuses Palestinian leaders of inciting the violence by accusing Israel of harming the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, a sensitive site revered by both Muslims, who call it Haram al-Sharif, and Jews.
Speaking at Harvard University on Tuesday, Kerry commented on the situation, saying, “There’s been a massive increase in settlement over the course of the last years and there’s an increase in the violence because there’s this frustration that’s growing.” He added that there was also “frustration among Israelis who don’t see any movement.”
“Settlement” refers to building activity in Israeli communities located in disputed areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.
At a press conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu challenged the notion that the spate of violence is due to Palestinian frustration over lack of progress in peace talks or Israeli settlement activity. He did not mention Kerry by name, but the implication was clear.
“They're attacking us not because they want peace or don’t want peace,” he said. “It’s because they don’t want us here [in Israel]. If they’re frustrated, I assure you that frustration will continue because we're going to continue to be here.”
“As far as settlements are concerned,” Netanyahu continued, “this is not a result of a ‘massive’ wave of settlements because there’s not been a massive wave of settlements.”
The attackers themselves were open in explaining their motivation, he pointed out.
“They leave behind Facebook pages in which they cite and repeat Palestinian incitement about the al-Aqsa mosque. All the lies that are said about us trying to bring down the mosque or change the status quo, they cite that as the reason for their activity.”
“And you can’t fit a false template on reality,” he added. “This is what is driving this current wave.”
Asked about Netanyahu’s remarks, State Department spokesman John Kirby said, “We’ve never said – the secretary did not say – that settlements were to blame for the current violence. There’s no excuse for terrorism, and as I said earlier, certainly no excuse for the deliberate and intentional taking of innocent life.”
Kirby added that the administration has “long been clear that settlements are part of the broader context of the challenges posed on both sides by the absence of progress toward a two-state solution.”