March 15th, 2010
12:48 PM ET

Report: Israel, U.S. ties worst in 35 years, official says

Israel's ties with the United States are at their worst in 35 years, the country's top envoy to the United States was quoted as saying Monday.

Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, made the remarks in a conference call to the country's consuls general Saturday night, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported.

His comments came as the United States harshly criticized Israel for announcing new settlement construction in disputed East Jerusalem territory while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set up a team to investigate the timing of the announcement, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called "insulting" to her country.

The United States has asked Israel to "do something significant" to show that it is serious about moving toward negotiations with Palestinians, a U.S. official and an Israeli official told CNN. Specifically, the United States asked Israel to rescind the decision on the settlement project in East Jerusalem, the sources said.

State Department Deputy Secretary James Steinberg delivered that message Friday in a meeting with Oren, and Clinton reiterated it in a phone call with Netanyahu, the sources said.

"It's not about words any more," said the U.S. official, who could not speak on the record because of the sensitive nature of the diplomacy. "We need to see some concrete steps."

Earlier, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said he could not confirm whether Clinton presented Israel with a set of demands.

Netanyahu was focused on trying to "calm things down," Regev said.

Speaking Monday during an event at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Netanyahu argued that such construction has been going on for decades and does not hurt Arabs.

"In the last 42 years, there has not been a government that has limited the building in Jerusalem," he said, citing several suburbs of the city. "The development of these Jewish neighborhoods never hurt in any way the Arabs in East Jerusalem and did not come on account of them."

He added there is broad agreement such neighborhoods will remain part of Israel in a final peace agreement. "We will continue to keep Jerusalem as an open city for all the religions," Netanyahu said," a city where Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims live in coexistence, enjoy freedom to worship at their holy sites."

The Israeli announcement of construction in Ramat Shlomo came during Biden's visit last week. It complicated U.S. efforts to set up so-called proximity talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, the latest attempt to nudge the two sides back toward talking directly.

Biden condemned the decision, calling it "a step that undermines the trust we need right now."

–CNN's Kevin Flower contributed to this report.

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soundoff (322 Responses)
  1. Truth Teller

    Israel and the US seem to be practicing World wrestling Federation moves on the rest of the world.

    The US is feigning indignation and Israel is pretending to be concerned.

    Lets be honest. Lets be frank. The US and Israel are desperately trying to get the region/world prepped for another illegal invasion of yet another Muslim country.

    Lies. Lies and more lies. If Clinton is serious, lets see her block Israels guaranteed welfare checks. Money talks, we know what walks.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jphilly

    the US needs to realize that isreal doesn't want peace, they never did. Isreal actually has a competent government , that have actual brains. Therefore the clowns in washington are no match intellectually for the isrealis. The isrealis do what every other country does when dealing with america, take one step back for every two steps foward. maintaining progress in your favor while making it seem like they are caving to America's "influence" once in awhile. That pacifies the american public as well as politicians like hilary, biden, and whoever else at the time long enough for them to ride out their terms and then the next batch of morons gets elected and isreal (ass well as every other country) just press rewind and start over, meanwhile accomplishing their goals. hell even countries like NK and iran do the same thing. americans always think the next guy in office is gonna change things,, but it never does. the truth is that america is bought and paid for, it doesnt matter which guy you elect. the banks who own isreal and the banks who own America make alot of money together, and have for awhile. all this diplomatic drama is all for show, it's meant to pacify the public masses. It's just a little dance that all the players have to do to accomplish the goals at hand.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Robert D Coffman

    Its time the US stand up to the State of Isreal and the powerful lobbiest that ensure Isreals interest. Isreal can do what ever they want, but the US should not support Isreal if those in power can not approach the peace process in a compromising and honest way.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. sweetadversity

    Clearly, the actions of the Zionists are creating obstacles to the necessary peace procceses to move forward.

    Hopefully this administration will remain firm and not back down (as it does repeatedly) and not backpedal on its demands to stop this illegal settlement activity.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    This whole issue is being raised in order to pressure israel into making concessions. Its a farce. Israel needs to do what it needs to do to provide for its citizenry's basic human needs.... that's something the Palestinian "leadership" should learn from.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Caitlin

    "In the last 42 years, there has not been a government that has limited the building in Jerusalem,"

    There words tell a lot on why Palestinians feel so desperate and helpless, and many times resort to violence against the Israeli war machine . Israel has been steadily stealing their land in East Jerusalem with these settlements and constructions. Yes, there is nothing extraordinary about this announcement for new settlement constructions, and that lies at the heart of our problems in the middle east.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Freedtoo

    I think the White House just set the stage for the next Israeli / Arab war.They certainly stirred the pot and encouraged the Palestinians to avoid any peace talks and wait until Hezbollah and Hamas try again to destroy the State of Israel. Mr President, did you notice while you and Biden were having your tantrum over Israel, your friend, your enemy, the crackpot from Iran, was telling the Afghan people during his popular State visit, that 9/11 was a lie.You didn't bat an eye lid.Now I would call that pretty insulting not Israel who wants to build housing on their own land.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Alex

    Telling this leach-state that we have some opinions of our own is a good thing but all of our 'political power players' will waffle when the super rich NY Jews start dialing in political threats.

    I am sick of our support of this fake "ally." These people would turn on the USA in a second if they could, they don't have problems sinking our ships and killing our sailors and arrogantly sending hit squads across the globe (including the USA) to do their dirty work.

    While they may preach that they are the "chosen people" (like that means anything to anyone with an IQ), they pose a much more serious threat than the Muslims everyone is supposedly worried about because the Jews have already bought our politicians.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ali

    Just so that you know –

    Israel has decided to go ahead with settlemen

    I read this news on Al-Jazeera English in the afternoon and am surprised that its not yet surfaced on CNN. I guess its either selective coverage or saving the US government from further embarassement.

    Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has rejected calls from the US to halt settlement plans in occupied East Jerusalem, saying plans for building new homes would go ahead.

    In a speech to Israel's parliament on Monday, Netanyahu said construction "will continue in Jerusalem as this has been the case for the past 42 years" in reference to the 1967 occupation of the mainly Arab territory.

    He said that the plans would not hurt Palestinians, who have said peace negotiations cannot go ahead until the project is cancelled.

    His comments come after Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, condemned the plans as "insulting" to peace efforts and reportedly called on Netanyahu to reverse the decision.

    Israel's announcement to build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem came during a visit to the region by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, sparking a diplomatic row between the two countries.

    Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Clinton, in a phone call with Netanyahu on Friday, asked him to make a "substantial gesture" towards Palestinians to help restart peace talks.

    She called for an official declaration that talks would deal with core issues, including borders, the status of Jerusalem, refugees, and settlements, the paper reported.

    Response requested

    Clinton was also said to have requested an official response on whether Tuesday's announcement was a "bureaucratic mistake, or a deliberate act, carried out for political reasons".

    Netanyahu has apologised for what he called the bad timing and ordered an investigation into how government officials unveiled the plans during Biden's visit.

    The announcement embarrassed Biden, who was visiting Israel in a bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
    Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to Washington, said the spat had brought relations to a 35-year low and had created a "crisis of historic proportions".

    A major pro-Israel US lobbying group also said that the stern US remarks were "of serious concern."

    "Aipac calls on the administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish state," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said on Sunday.

    Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, said there are steps the US could take to pressure Israel over the settlement issue.

    "There's a lot of financial aid that the US gives Israel," she said.

    "One programme that the US has used in the past is reducing loan guarantees. The amount that the settlements cost Israel, that is the amount by which the US can reduce the loan guarantees to Israel.

    "We've seen that in the 1990s and then again in 2003."

    Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, who is currently on her first official visit to the region, has joined the chorus of criticism of Israel's settlement plans.

    Indirect talks

    Speaking in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Monday, Ashton said that the Israeli decision "endangers" indirect talks between the country and the Palestinians.

    "Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks," she said.

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

    Besides Ashton, Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva, the Brazilian president, is also touring the region. He met Shimon Peres, his Israeli counterpart, on Monday, marking the start of a three-day visit.

    Media reports suggest Lula is aiming to carve out a role for Brazil in mediating the peace process.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dennis

    Well, well, well.........

    We, the U.S., have finally figured out that we have been played for a sucker.....

    by "our Friends", the Israelis.

    While the Israelis steal, rob, and slaughter innocent Palestinians, we have sat idly by.

    Any attempt on our part, draws a "Remember the Holocaust" reminder in one form or another.

    As if two wrongs make a right...I don't think so....

    I hope we stick to our guns and call the situation as it is.

    How come we do not see any television of the Palestinian Refugee Camps??

    Soon we will hear the old refrain: " You cannot criticize Israel because it is Anti-Semitic"

    Baloney..Again we see the real problem with State-Sponsored religion.

    Boy did George Washington have it right.....

    This is not a religious issue, but a political issue.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gary

    Israel is acting like a spoiled child.
    While the relatives shake their heads nobody takes action.
    a GOOD SPANK MAY BE THE ANSWER or the kid will never grow up

    March 15, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eddie

    I am an Israeli and I am telling you guys that the USA does not have any better friend than Israel. Israel is defending American interests in the middle east and all over the world. Therefore the Obama's and Clinton's reaction and behavior towards Israel is very disrespectful and disappointing.

    It is a shame that an American president does not have the guts to deal with his enemies and he prefers to pick on his friends. If you read Arabic news papers, you will see that they are laughing at the US and longer take it seriously.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MikeInOrlando

    Oh well Israel. It's time to cut the cords with you anyway. We have our own problems here at home to worry about. We gave you billions over the years. Have a good life! Send us a email every now and then to say 'HI".

    March 15, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rubin, New York

    If Israel doesn't stop building on occupied land, no matter what they do IT WILL NOT WORK, to reach a peace agreement. I hope we can put more pressure on them (Israel), not just "words"

    March 15, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joe

    I applaud this administration for finally standing up to Israel. For too many years I've witnessed the Israeli government do nothing to promote peace, dragging their feet in the peace process, and grabbing as much land as possible all in the name of punishing terrorism. I think it's their oppressive treatment of the Palestinians that's fed the fires of terrorism. I think it's shameful that we've supported this for so long with American taxpayer dollars, military hardware, etc.. Enough is enough! Settle the conflict! Establish a free and secure Palestinian state. This has nothing to do with Israel's right to exist, anti-semetism, or any other smokescreen that Israel has used in the past to grab more land and delay settlement. Peace settlement with the Palestinians that is ... not more squatters building houses on Arab land.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
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