Saturday, March 13, 2010
Clinton Blasts Israel For Imperiling Talks
WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton levied a blistering rebuke of Israel, telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the two countries' historic alliance could be adversely affected if his government doesn't more aggressively embrace the Middle East peace process.
Mrs. Clinton delivered her démarche during a tense 45-minute call with Mr. Netanyahu Friday morning, according to U.S. officials briefed on the exchange.
The conversation followed what the Obama administration is calling Israel's "insulting" public snub of Vice President Joe Biden during his official trip to Jerusalem this week.
During the visit, Israel's interior minister announced plans to build 1,600 new Jewish homes in contested east Jerusalem. The Palestinians protested the settlement activity and indicated they might back out of renewed peace talks that the Obama administration has been brokering.
Mrs. Clinton "spoke this morning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu…to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America's interests," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday.
He added: "The secretary said she could not understand how this happened…and she made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process."
On Friday afternoon, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was summoned to a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.
U.S. officials described President Barack Obama as "livid" over the treatment of Mr. Biden in Jerusalem. They said Mr. Obama's anger was among the reasons Mrs. Clinton made the call. The Israeli embassy declined to comment.
Mr. Netanyahu apologized to Mr. Biden during his stay. But U.S. officials Friday said the Israeli leader's actions were insufficient, as he appeared more concerned about the timing of the announcement than its substance.
"The prime minister's response wasn't enough," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the exchange. "It calls into question what type of partner Israel wants to be in the peace process going forward."
Indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians are expected to resume next week under the leadership of the Obama administration's special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell.
U.S. officials didn't outline Friday what measures the Obama administration would take if Mr. Netanyahu's government didn't take steps that were seen as further underpinning the peace process. U.S. officials have noted however, that Mr. Obama has yet to visit Israel while in office.
Any further fissures in the U.S.-Israel alliance could have a profound impact on Middle East security beyond the Arab-Israeli peace process. Israel has indicated it might attack Iran's nuclear installations if Washington is unsuccessful in using diplomacy to curb Tehran's actions.
In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials visited Jerusalem and pressed Mr. Netanyahu to give diplomacy more time to work with Iran. Israeli officials, however, have publicly complained about the lack of progress in combating Iran.