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AIPAC to Obama: Defuse tension with Israel

WASHINGTON (JTA) — AIPAC called on the Obama administration to take steps to defuse tension with Israel, while Israel’s ambassador to Washington said bilateral relations are in crisis.

"The Obama administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement released Sunday.

The statement came after a weekend of U.S. officials’ recriminations and demands following an Israeli ministry’s announcement last week during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that it had given preliminary approval for the construction of 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized profusely to the vice president, who accepted the apology.

"The administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests," AIPAC said. "The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done with regard to the urgent issue of Iran’s rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors."

Both Netanyahu, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who publicly called the incident "an insult to the United States," are scheduled to speak at AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington next week. President Obama had been scheduled to be out of town during the conference; Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with either Biden or Clinton during his stay in Washington for the conference.

Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, told Israeli diplomats in a conference call Saturday night that bilateral relations between Israel and the United States have hit their lowest point since 1975, according to Israeli news reports.

Haaretz quoted diplomats on the call with Oren as saying that "the crisis was very serious and we are facing a very difficult period in relations."

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