Earlier this week, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sharply criticized the Israeli government after it announced plans to build more than 1,000 Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said, while Clinton called the move “counterproductive.” Indeed, the Israelis in 2003 agreed to freeze all settlement activity to jumpstart the peace process and the Palestinians refuse to engage in direct talks in the absence of a freeze.
Clinton met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in New York for more than seven hours without producing any diplomatic breakthroughs, though veteran Middle East negotiator Aaron Miller said that the length of the meeting was a good sign that the two leaders were “ironing out differences.” Politico’s Laura Rozen reports that in an “unusual, if not unheard of” move, Netanyahu also met Wednesday with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA). Cantor’s office stated that the presumptive Majority Leader would fight the Obama administration on behalf of Israel:
Regarding the midterms, Cantor may have given Netanyahu some reason to stand firm against the American administration.
“Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington,” the readout continued. “He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”
Rozen also noted that a “veteran observer of U.S.-Israeli relations Ron Kampeas said he found that statement ‘an eyebrow-raiser.’” “I can’t remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president,” Kampeas wrote, later adding, “I have it on good authority that as late as last week, Bibi’s people were at pains to deny that such a meeting would take place.”
While Cantor’s office later told Kampeas that it disputes his interpretation of what Cantor’s office said happened in the meeting, this isn’t the first time Cantor has undermined the Obama administration’s policy on Israel. On a congressional delegation visit to Israel last year, Cantor offered support for Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and countered Clinton’s criticism of Israel’s handling of the eviction of two Arab families from a house in East Jerusalem earlier that week. “I don’t think we, in America, would want another country telling us how to implement and execute our laws,” Cantor said.
As the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss has repeatedly noted, the Israelis agreed to a total settlement freeze in the 2003 Roadmap for Middle East peace and that “since then, Israel has consistently and spectacularly failed to honor that commitment.” With Cantor getting Netanyahu’s back at the expense of official U.S. policy, it doesn’t seem likely that the Israelis will have much incentive to change course.
For more on Obama’s Israel policy, see today’s Progress Report, “Obama’s Pro-Israel Record.”