JERUSALEM (AFP) - An Israeli minister on Sunday said Washington's top diplomat was "wrong" for pressuring Israel in peace talks, a day before Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas visits the White House.
His remarks came two days after United States Secretary of State John Kerry criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's repeated demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
"John Kerry is wrong because he is putting pressure on the wrong side," said Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, who is considered close to Mr Netanyahu.
"Kerry should be asking Abu Mazen (Abbas) why he is stubbornly refusing to recognise Israel as the Jewish state," he told public radio.
The demand, which was only placed on the table several months ago by Mr Netanyahu, has been consistently rejected by the Palestinians and is now threatening to derail the peace talks ahead of an April 29 deadline.
Mr Kerry waded into the debate on Friday, saying he believed it was a "mistake" to raise the issue over and over again - in what was taken as open criticism of Mr Netanyahu.
"I think it's a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state and peace," Mr Kerry told a congressional hearing, adding that Washington had made its position "clear." He said such recognition was clear in United Nations resolutions and it was also confirmed by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1988 and in 2004.
The Palestinians, who recognised Israel as a state in the early 1990s, have said that accepting its religious character would ignore its Arab minority and amount to giving up on the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees.
Israel has not formally responded to Mr Kerry's remarks.
Mr Kerry is facing an uphill battle to get the two sides, which have reportedly failed to agree on anything, to clinch a framework proposal which would extend the talks beyond the April deadline until the end of the year.
On Saturday, another senior member of Mr Netanyahu's cabinet poured cold water on Mr Kerry's peace efforts by saying Mr Abbas was not a partner for peace.
"He is not a partner for a final agreement that would include the recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people and that would end the conflict and all claims," Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told private Channel 2 television.
"I'm sorry to come to this conclusion, but this (peace agreement) will not happen in my time," said Mr Yaalon, one of several hardliners in Netanyahu's government.
Mr Abbas will meet US President Barack Obama on Monday, and is likely to raise the issue of Israel's pledge to release another 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners, which is due to take place on March 29.
Israeli officials have said that without any movement in the peace talks, the release is unlikely to happen.