U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are working on diplomatic damage control to soothe ruffled feathers following a week-long spat that senior officials have described as the worst Israeli-American crisis in 35 years.
“I don’t buy that,” Clinton said of the “crisis.” She told reporters Tuesday, “We have an absolute commitment to Israel’s security. We have a close, unshakeable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American and Israeli people, …but that doesn’t mean that we are going to agree. We don’t agree with any of our international partners on everything.”
The crisis, or disagreement, peaked during last week's visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The same day he arrived, Israel's Interior Ministry, apparently without Netanyahu’s knowledge, announced completion of the fourth stage of a seven-step process for building 1,600 housing units for Jews in Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood. The area is in part of the capital that the State Department of the United States does not recognize as being under Israeli sovereignty, although Congress has passed laws that give the opposite impression.
Clinton referred to the issue Tuesday, saying that “we have expressed our dismay and disappointment,” but she did not mention her public condemnation of the Israeli government’s announcement.
The office of Prime Minister Netanyahu Wednesday morning issued a brief statement that “Israel appreciates and esteems U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warm remarks regarding the deep bond between the United States and Israel and the United States' commitment to Israel's security.
“In the past year, the government of Israel has proven its commitment to peace in both word and deed, including [acceptance in principle of a Palestinian Authority state], the dismantling of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in Judea and Samaria, and the decision to suspend new construction starts in Judea and Samaria for 10 months, which Secy. of State Clinton defined as, unprecedented.’”
Netanyahu’s office pointed out that the PA, which has set pre-conditions for diplomatic talks with Israel, is “waging an assault to delegitimize Israel…and is continuing to incite towards hatred and violence.”
Both the Prime Minister and Secretary Clinton are scheduled to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference next week. State Department spokesmen said that a formal meeting between them has not been arranged for the time being.