Reacting to the U.S.-Israel spat


All corners are reacting to to the brouhaha between the United States and Israel over the announcement during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the Jewish state last week that Israel will add 1,600 housing units for Jews in eastern Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement — which embarassed Biden and infuriated the Obama administration — but insisted Israel will go ahead with the construction it considers its sovereign right.

Israeli President Shimon Peres: "We cannot afford to unravel the delicate fabric of friendship with the United States. Today we are also at a decisive moment and we must decide without the determination of external parties."

The Republicans:

  • U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.): "In an effort to ingratiate our country with the Arab world, this Administration has shown a troubling eagerness to undercut our allies and friends. Israel has always been committed to the peace process, including advocating for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, in effort to bring this conflict to an end. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Government continues to insist on indirect talks and slowing down the process… While it condemns Israel, the Administration continues to ignore a host of Palestinian provocations that undermine prospects for peace in the region. Where is the outrage when top Fatah officials call for riots on the Temple Mount? Why does the Palestinian Authority get a pass when it holds a ceremony glorifying the woman responsible for one of the deadliest terror attack in Israel’s history? Surely, the Administration’s double standard has set back the peace process."
  • U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee: U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.
  • Republican Jewish Coalition: We call on the Obama administration to halt immediately its unwarranted pressure against Israel, to take steps to heal the dangerous rift it has created between the two countries, and to return to the policy of its predecessors in supporting Israel’s security and well-being as an important strategic ally.

More Jewish organizations (and one philo-Semitic one):

  • Noam Shelef, director of strategic communications of Americans for Peace Now: Americans are not stupid. We know that peace for Israel is more important than the expansion of settlements. We also know that America’s interests are directly tied to Middle East peace and to Israel. … Peace talks will not succeed without genuine, sustained American leadership. All sides must know that there will be a price to pay for frustrating peace efforts. Our role, today, is to show Washington that President Obama enjoys a groundswell of support when he demonstrates such leadership.  
  • The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs: The language used by the Obama Administration was harsher than the language used to condemn Iran’s nuclear weapons program. During the past year, the Obama Administration was restrained in its rhetoric as the Iranian people fought in the streets for democracy because it did not wish to interject itself in what the President declared to be an internal Iranian matter. The decision to expand housing in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is an internal Israeli matter. To challenge it is to challenge Israel’s sovereignty. The unfortunate reality is that so far the administration’s foreign policy has been to coddle those who criticize the United States such as Turkey, Syria and Iran and to punish those which support the United States like Poland, the Czech Republic and Israel.
  • Christians United for Israel: "CUFI concurs with statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and other Israeli leaders that this announcement was ill-timed. And CUFI notes repeated press reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu neither knew about this announcement in advance nor hesitated to apologize for it after the fact. We are therefore surprised that the Administration has chosen to continue to escalate a conflict with one of our closest allies that could have been quickly resolved. Timing aside, the fact remains that the Israeli policy behind this announcement — to continue building in existing Jewish neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem — is not new. When it comes to Israel’s bargaining position, nothing has changed.  It is therefore difficult to understand why this long-standing disagreement over policy — which has never been a barrier to negotiations with the Palestinians– is now the source of such tension with the US."
  • Stephen Savitsky and Rabbi Steve Weil, Orthodox Union: "The Obama Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from the kind of public statements it has directed at Israel over the past few days. These statements have escalated tensions between the two governments, which the Obama Administration must now de-escalate."
  • Rabbinical Council of America: "Some may question the wisdom of Israel’s decision to proceed at this time with this long-planned project. Some may find fault with the timing of its announcement, coming during a sensitive visit to Israel by the Vice President, himself a long-time friend of Israel and the Jewish people. Some may even doubt Israel’s right to expand the neighborhoods of a united Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel. But none of that can explain the disproportionate, extraordinary, and unwarranted response by some spokesmen of the Obama administration in excoriating, condemning, and publicly lashing out at the duly elected representatives of the sovereign State of Israel."
  • B’nai B’rith International: The United States and Israel must intensify efforts to recall and implement shared goals and values—specifically peace talks. Israel is calling for negotiations without preconditions, and has accepted the “proximity talks” that could jump start a stalled process. This is where attention and focus must now return. It is incumbent now for the United States and Israel to ensure that the enemies of peace do not use a diplomatic dispute to release the Palestinians from their peace negotiation obligations.
  • The Israel Project: While Israel apologized for the timing of the announcement of new housing units in Jerusalem, Israel should not be put in a position of apologizing for Jews living in their holiest city and capital, Jerusalem. Jews have not only been connected to Jerusalem for thousands of years, they are the only group in recent history that has protected Jerusalem’s holy sites for Christians, Muslims, Jews and others — keeping them open and safe to all faiths. Indeed, Arab and Christian citizens of Israel have freedom of religion, speech, press and the right to vote. By contrast, when Israel gave up all of Gaza in 2005 in hopes of peace, all Jews (including those buried in the cemetery there) had to leave Gaza. Indeed, the only Jew in Gaza is kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

The pundits:

  • David Makovsky, in Foreign Policy: "The United States is justifiably upset over the incident. But its alliance with Israel is crucial for both sides. An Israel that is weakened in its relationship with the United States will not be strong enough to take risks for peace… During the previous Ehud Olmert government, the prime minister had a parliamentary representative keeping track of settlement decisions in order to prevent such a miscommunication. Apparently for the current government, this mechanism was either not established or it did not work. It is hard to know which is worse. If there was no mechanism, the Israelis are guilty of duplicity. If there was a mechanism that failed to function, it is ineptitude… Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who bears responsibility for the announcement of 1,600 units in East Jerusalem at the time of Biden’s visit, should be replaced. "
  • Washington Post editorial: "American chastising of Israel invariably prompts still harsher rhetoric, and elevated demands, from Palestinian and other Arab leaders. Rather than join peace talks, Palestinians will now wait to see what unilateral Israeli steps Washington forces… A larger question concerns Mr. Obama’s quickness to bludgeon the Israeli government. He is not the first president to do so; in fact, he is not even the first to be hard on Mr. Netanyahu. But tough tactics don’t always work: Last year Israelis rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu, while Mr. Obama’s poll ratings in Israel plunged to the single digits. The president is perceived by many Israelis as making unprecedented demands on their government while overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders. If this episode reinforces that image, Mr. Obama will accomplish the opposite of what he intends."
  • Yoel Marcus, in a column in Ha’aretz: "If Bibi genuinely did not know, as he foolishly claims, that 1,600 more homes were being planned for East Jerusalem, he does not deserve to be prime minister. If he did know, and permitted Interior Minister Eli Yishai to announce the plan exactly during the visit of Joe Biden, who is both U.S. vice president and a friend to Israel, then there are two possibilities, each worse than the other: either stupidity or fear of the extremists in his cabinet. Either way, he is playing with fire. It’s not just the personal insult to Biden, our only friend in the White House today. It’s the insult to the institution of the presidency, which no American can forgive."

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