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Skepticism over US Rose-Colored Mideast Glasses

Israeli media fawned over a US statement that it is closer” to agreement with Israel. US media are skeptical: “We’ve been fed this line before.”
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 8/25/2009, 7:11 AM

Israel News Photo: Flash 90

American journalists covering the State Department are highly skeptical over U.S. government assurances that “we are getting closer to an agreement” with Israel. The Obama administration is demanding that Israel halt all construction for Jews in eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

Both Haaretz and the Ynet Hebrew-language websites as well as Voice of Israel government radio reported American optimism at the daily State Department press briefing, without noting reporters’ doubts on the eve of a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell in Britain,

But State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, after stating his optimism, also cautioned, “Any reports that we’ve come to an agreement, or that we expect one on Wednesday necessarily, I would have to call premature.”

The “agreement” that Mitchell is seeking would open the door for a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Kelly said Israel must stop building for Jews in areas claimed by the PA, which he noted also has the obligation to halt incitement and violence.

After Kelly repeated several times “we are closer to an agreement,” one reporter responded, “Well, you are going to have to forgive us a little bit of skepticism, because on this issue in particular, and especially during the last administration, after talks had actually begun post-Annapolis, we were consistently being fed this line that progress is being made in the talks, that the two sides were going – and there was never any proof that it was. And we were just asked to take this at face value, and it turned out that there wasn’t any progress.”

Journalists at the daily press briefing of the State Department have been increasingly critical of the U.S. government, noting several times that the Obama administration, instead of the PA, is trying to reach an agreement with Israel.

Kelly further raised doubts among the media when he told them Monday that the Obama administration still insists on a halt to building that already has begun as well as a stop to “all settlement activity,” including “natural growth.” He added, “I think we’ve been very clear that 'all' means [to] stop all construction.”

He denied reports from Israel that the U.S. is prepared to agree that current projects be completed, although most members of the Netanyahu government reject the American demand.

Israeli media reported Monday night that Prime Minister Netanyahu will not compromise Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, in direct opposition to the position of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.