The administration of US President Barack Obama is continuing to pummel Israel for the sixth straight day over an announcement regarding the construction of housing for Jews in Israel's historic and biblical capital. The issue erupted into a major diplomatic dispute last Tuesday when Israeli media played up a routine announcement regarding bureaucratic approval of a housing plan in Jerusalem just as Vice President Joe Biden arrived for a visit.
After direct and harsh rebukes from Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it was the turn of Obama's top adviser, David Axelrod, to take a swing at Israel Sunday.
Axelrod told the ABC network Sunday that approval of new housing units in Ramat Shlomo during Biden’s trip to Israel last week was an “affront” and an “insult.”
In his question to Biden, ABC correspondent Jake Tapper called the Israeli decision “a slap in the face,” and said that “President Obama was said to be very upset about it.” He asked Axelrod: “Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk? And does Israel's intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?”
A 'calculated' affront
Axelrod replied: “Well, look, what happened there was an affront. It was an insult, but that's not the most important thing. What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process. We've just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was -- that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace -- and security in the region.”
“Israel is a strong and special ally,” Axelrod went on. “The bonds run deep. But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave. That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president. I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we've had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.”
Tapper apparently tried to get Axelrod to come out with a more explosive condemnation of Israel, asking him to answer “yes or no” to the statement that “the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue” puts US troops' lives at risk in the Middle East.
Axelrod (pictured at left) answered: “I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I'm not going to put it in those terms. But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.”
It is not entirely clear whether the Obama administration objects to the timing of the Ramat Shlomo announcement or to the construction in Jerusalem itself, nor is it clear why the Obama administration seems unwilling to accept Israeli apologies and explanations that the timing of the announcement was unintentional.