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. Rashad

    Israel should be thrown out of power, have the United States/United Nations recruit a team worthy of putting a country together. With one side being more dominant than the other, nothing will ever work out in a peace treaty. Let's see some US Tax dollars spent wisely.

    March 15, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. T

    Thanks Israel, we only get attached from extreme terrorists because of our support for your country, but hye dont mind us! Idiots.

    March 15, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Justice786

    I am amazed that the only thing being discussed is the "timing" of the announcement! Over 500,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in the West Bank, and these settlements should not be there. It is not a question of timing; rather the real question is why there are settlements on occupied land. Why are Israelis allowed to buildwhile Palestinian homes are demolished for not having "certificates" to build (these are next to impossible to obtain for Palestinians). As Uri Avnery, a balanced Israeli commentator pointed out, "Every government official knows that the nationalist Prime Minister is pushing for the Judaization of East Jerusalem, that the extreme nationalist Minister of the Interior is even more eager, and that the super-nationalist Mayor of Jerusalem practically salivates when he imagines a Jewish quarter on the Temple Mount. So why should a bureaucrat postpone the confirmation of a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem? Just because of the visit of some American [politician]?" Unfortunately, what Obama and his team have realized is simply this: they were not been able to cajole the Netanyahu cabinet into halting the settlements in order to start negotiations for the two-state solution. Later on, after some meager attempts, Obama capitulated to the farce of a "settlement freeze" in the West Bank. Today Netanyahu decided to go on building settlements knowing that AIPAC will protect his back in the US. What is sad is that our media and the Obama administration only seem to talk about the issue of "timing".

    March 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Renee in LA

    Why is the Obama administration making such a big deal of these settlements? This is not a big deal. Not worth interfering with US-Israel relations over. This was a minor policitcal misstep by a subordinate of Netanyahu.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brad Melton

    "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."

    Does he not get it? It doesn't matter what has occurred, is occurring or will occur but when construction expansion is announced on the very day our Vice President arrives in country, it is an incredible diplomatic blunder. It was also horribly ill-timed, self-centered, rude, crass, tacky & tasteless. Only an idiot cannot see this; only a fool would say it wasn't intentional; only a malignant narcissist would refuse to assume responsibility for it.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Patti

    East Jerusalem is not disputed territory.Israel's annexation is illegal under international law and is not recognized by the international community. As for Netanyahu's claim that Israel's building in Jerusalem for only Jews hasn't hurt the Arabs, let's get some opinions from those impacted -the Arabs.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. David

    everything is on 35 year low with this administration, why not be like every other nation and just wait till this ONE TERM president is gone...

    hillary clinton's: if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, it will start a nuclear armed race is the most disrespectful, moronic comment in U.S history

    iran with nuclear weapons means NUCLEAR WAR! NOT AN ARMS RACE..

    i cant believe i voted for this administration! I WANT MY VOTE BACK!!

    March 15, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. FRank Rizzo

    Israel is a serious threat to the National Security of the US, our so-called Allied has spied on US receives over 12 Billions a year in Military and Social Aid and still they stab us in the Back. We need Israel like we need a hole in our head, it's time we cut off ties with this rouge State and placed American Interest first and maybe will throw a bone at the Israelis, maybe just maybe.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. FatSean

    Time to cut these jerks loose. No more free money, no more back-up from the USA. Be racist tools on your own dime Israel.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. philip boutwell

    God's Holy Word states : "He who rejects Israel rejects me?"
    why are we opposing Israel ? could it be our liberal leaders we have in our own administration?
    Before looking at Israel, look at us, Mr. Obama. Hae they changed or have we perhaps?

    March 15, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. IF

    The embassador's remark sounds as if he's trying to put pressure on the US administration, possibly expecting the support of the american-israeli lobby. However, Israel needs the support of not only the US but also of the EU and the more moderate Arab countries. So, one could expect Israel to be a bit more reasonable and intelligent. I agree that Jews were persecuted in various and hideous ways throughout their history but Netanyahu is fast wasting that credit of good will. Just as Sharon did. Hamas and before them, Arafat, are obviously not blameless but, Palestinians and Israelis have to stop reacting in such alike ways and convince themselves that they have to live together. Israelis are there to stay and so are Palestinians. Both sides have got to give in somewhat for their survival. As it is, Israel is coming out as the bully... and bullies aren't much loved.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Moki, Tucson

    Actions not words. It's about time the U.S. took a stand against this nonsense . . .

    March 15, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. brown

    Perhaps this is a good time to re-evaluate our relationship with Israel.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bexar

    I told you that Hussein Obama was against Israel.

    You Jews who voted for him are getting what's coming to you.

    Enjoy.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tired of israels lies

    When are we going to stop putting up with this crap from Israel? They don't want peace they never have. They want more Arab land. No wonder the Arabs hate them. We need to stop supporting them.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
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