WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama must move to defuse a bitter diplomatic feud with Israel and pursue a Middle East "peace on Israel's terms," one of his top critics in the US Congress said Tuesday.
"This administration is doing things that I think jeopardize our national security because they are playing such hardball with our ally in the region," said Representative Eric Cantor, the number two House Republican.
"Peace is what we are about in this country and we're about trying to facilitate that, but it should be peace on Israel's terms," he said in a breakfast with reporters to discuss the dispute.
Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, suggested Democrats could pay a political price for the row in November mid-term elections, saying that it fed some voters' concerns as expressed in the 2008 campaign that Obama would insufficiently back Israel.
"I do think that fear is being realized. People are very disappointed, because how do you treat your closest ally like this?" he said.
The crisis, arguably the worst between the allies since 1975, erupted last week when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in annexed Arab east Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden.
It also coincides with an eruption of unrest across east Jerusalem over the Israeli settlement plans and the reopening of a 17th century synagogue near the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Cantor, who visited the Palestinian territories in August, said he had spoken late Monday with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to stress that he was "very worried about the signal that this is sending" around the world.
"I don't think we just say 'we're on the side of Israel, period,'" said Cantor, who criticized the US ally for the timing of its announcement on the construction but condemned the "disproportionate response" in Washington.
"They just need to lower the rhetoric here. I think they need to reiterate and confirm the unique US-Israel relationship is alive and well," he said.
"If this administration has a difference in terms of the policy of building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, so be it. But we will not let that jeopardize our relationship because frankly the national security of the United States is too dependent on a strong Israel," he said.
Cantor said the Obama administration, which has sought a halt to settlement construction unsuccessfully since taking office in January 2009, had "taken this, I think, as an opportunity to restate their policy."
© AFP 2013