Last week, I wrote about remarks Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) made at an closed-to-press meeting with Jewish leaders in Los Angeles which were, according to a Haaretz story, critical of President Obama’s policy on settlements. Americans for Peace Now questioned the veracity of the report by the paper’s Barak Ravid, but also urged his constituents to ask the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman to clarify what he said. Yesterday afternoon, Berman told JTA in an interview that the report didn’t get it quite right.
The Haaretz report said this: "Berman was highly critical of the conduct of the Obama administration, saying the demand for absolute cessation of construction in the settlements was ‘mistaken.’ "
That sentence, though, is only half right. Berman said the administration did err initially in laying out its settlement policy, but that the characterization of him as "highly critical" of the Obama administration was wrong.
The Democrat said that the "original formulation" of the administration’s demand for the stoppage of settlements was a mistake because it was "too absolutist," noting specifically Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s May statement that the president "wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.
That made it sound like "anytime a hammer hits a nail anywhere in the West Bank" it would be a violation of the policy, said the Foreign Affairs Commitee chairman. Berman said the administration seems to have since softened that absolutism in subsequent negotiations with Israel over the last couple months.
But Berman told the crowd that he agreed that the issue of Israeli settlements did need to be addressed, and otherwise mostly complimented the White House’s and said it was acting "clearly and positively" on a variety of Middle East issues, from Iran to U.S-Israeli security cooperation.
"I think the context of the speech, to anybody who was there," said Berman, is that "by and large I was supporting administration policy. By and large they’re doing the right thing, but they’re not perfect."