Ties between Israel and US 'worst in 35 years'

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Israel's ambassador to the US has said that relations between the two countries are at their lowest point for 35 years, Israeli media have reported.

Last week Israeli officials announced the building of 1,600 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem while US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting.

The move was seen as an insult to the US. Palestinian leaders say indirect talks with Israel are now "doubtful".

But Israel's PM said Jewish settlements did "not hurt" Arabs in East Jerusalem.

Addressing Israel's parliament, the Knesset, Benjamin Netanyahu said he wanted peace negotiations, and hoped the Palestinians would not present "new preconditions" for talks.

"No government in the past 40 years has limited construction in neighbourhoods of Jerusalem," he said.

"Building these Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem does not hurt the Arabs of East Jerusalem or come at their expense."

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy head Baroness Ashton, who is on a Middle East tour, said Israel's decision had put the prospect of indirect talks with the Palestinians in jeopardy.

'Difficult period'

Previously the Israeli government had played down the strain in relations with the US.

But Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, told a conference call with Israeli consuls general in the US that "the crisis was very serious and we are facing a very difficult period in relations", the Israeli media reported on Monday.

On Friday, Mr Oren was summoned to the state department and was reprimanded about the affair, the Israeli Ynet News website reported.

Ynet quoted the ambassador as saying "Israel's ties with the US are in the most serious crisis since 1975".

In 1975, US-Israeli relations were strained by a demand from then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin partially withdraw its troops from the Sinai Peninsula, where they had been since the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Haaretz newspaper said the ambassador's quote had been reported to it by four of the Israeli consuls general following the conference call on Saturday.

Mr Oren had appeared "tense and pessimistic", the consuls general told the newspaper.

They were instructed to lobby members of congress and Jewish community leaders and tell them Israel had not intended to cause offence.

"These instructions come from the highest level in Jerusalem," Haaretz quoted Mr Oren as saying.

The Israeli embassy in Washington has not yet commented publicly on the story.

The EU, as part of the Middle East Quartet, has already condemned Israel's decision to build new homes in East Jerusalem.

Speaking to members of the Arab League in Cairo on Monday, Lady Ashton said the move had "endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks".

She added: "The EU position on settlements is clear. Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two state-solution impossible."


On Sunday, a top aide to US President Barack Obama said Israel's announcement of plans to build 1,600 homes for Jews in East Jerusalem was "destructive" to peace efforts.

David Axelrod said the move, which overshadowed Mr Biden's visit to Israel, was also an "insult" to the United States.

Just hours before the announcement Mr Biden had emphasised how close relations were, saying there was "no space" between Israel and the US.

Mr Netanyahu has tried to play down the unusually bitter diplomatic row between the two allies.

He said the announcement was a "bureaucratic mix-up" and that he "deeply regretted" its timing.

Under the Israeli plans, the new homes will be built in Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians are threatening to boycott newly agreed, indirect talks unless the Ramat Shlomo project is cancelled.

Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

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john richard barker - 3/17/2010

see my reply below plz.

john richard barker - 3/17/2010

This the kind of stuff that was told to the Indians by their British colonial masters--right up to the time the Brits were escorted out of the country.

john richard barker - 3/17/2010

The Bible tells us God promised this land to the Jews; the Jews wrote the Bible. How absurd.

David Zohar - 3/17/2010

Correction:"3000 years ago".

David Zohar - 3/17/2010

Unlike the American saga of conquest,the dispossession of American-Indians, or the British invasion of Australia and Canada at the expense of the original inhabitants, the Jews of Israel see themselves as coming home to a land from which they were evicted many years ago. That the Land of Israel was promised to the Children of Israel is even confirmed by the Holy Koran, in a passage usually ignored by Arab propagandists. Today there is an artificial squabble about adding some houses to an existing and rather small Jewish suburb on the outskirts of Jerusalem(which is two-thirds Jewish and one-third Arab, and is Israel's capital, just as it was in the days of King David 3000 years). It is Israel that is being insulted, not the USA. But Israel cannot supply oil like the Arabs. That is the whole story. Appeasement got the West nowhere in the late 1930s, and Israel is not Czechoslovakia. Those who ignore history, ancient and recent, are bound to stumble.

Vernon Clayson - 3/17/2010

Rather odd, one would think, that the area labeled Palestine can hardly be called a nation and there seems only the pretense of a government in the area, yet the likes of Obama, Biden, and Clinton and their toadies expect Israel to bargain with them as if they were an actual nation. Israel has the wherewithal to build 1600 homes, the Palestinians couldn't erect 1600 tents without funding from their Islamic neighbors and, strangely, political and financial backing from the US. And, by the way, none of the Islamic nations want the Palestinians in their own countries.