Last week, the Israeli government announced that it had approved settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank just as Vice President Biden arrived in the country to propel Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Biden quickly condemned the move, saying that “the substance and the timing” of the announcement “undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions.” Later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Israeli move “insulting” and “a very unfortunate and difficult moment.” Israel’s U.S. ambassador reportedly described U.S.-Israeli relations as in a state of “crisis.”
Now, conservative Israel supporters are pinning the blame on the Obama administration for the spat for daring to publicly air its differences with the Israeli government. Making reference to Clinton’s remarks, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who himself enjoys airing public disagreements with Obama, urged the White House to be quiet on Israel:
“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal — sometimes silence really is golden.”
In a press release, the Israel lobby organization AIPAC offered similar remarks. “The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern,” the statement read, adding that the “Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel.”
On Fox News Sunday yesterday, the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol stated bluntly that the dust-up was all Obama’s fault. “This is a fight that the White House has picked,” he said. “I do not know, honestly, why the president chose to pick a big public fight just when it was all dying down with Israel.”
It’s unclear why critics believe the White House “picked” the fight considering that Israel agreed in November to to curb settlement growth in partial fulfillment of Israel’s obligations under the Bush administration road map.
The administration is speaking up in defense of U.S. interests in the region. CentCom commander Gen. David Petraeus said recently he “worries” about the “lack of progress in resolving the issue” for U.S. forces in the region and that he believes “that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.”
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz editorialized yesterday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement policies are “leading to Israel’s increasing international isolation and threatening its key security interests in the name of an extreme right-wing ideology.”
The Jerusalem Post reports that Netanyahu told Likud Party members that settlement “construction in Jerusalem will continue in any part of the city as it has during the last 42 years.”
,Calling the Obama administration’s concerns over Israel’s settlement activity both “understandable and appropriate,” J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami emphasizes “the need to establish a border between Israel and the future Palestinian state.” Sign their petition here.