JERUSALEM - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said President Barack Obama’s forceful stance on stopping construction in Israeli neighborhoods and settlements has been “blown out of proportion” and misperceived both by Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state.
“The Obama administration shares ... strong, unwavering support of Israel as a Jewish state,” Hoyer told Newsmax. “The settlements has become such a focus, but there are more important issues. The settlement issue has been blown out of proportion and is not what he is articulating.”
While a GOP delegation to Israel last week criticized the president’s policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iranian nuclear weapons, a group of 29 Democrats this week sought to reaffirm “that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel remains as strong as ever,” Hoyer said during a news conference in Jerusalem on Thursday. Obama has been pressuring Israel to freeze all settlement construction, including “natural growth” in existing settlements.
But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said while he will not approve the building of new settlements, he will allow construction in existing ones. Hoyer defended the White House, saying that U.S policy hasn’t actually changed since the implementation of the Roadmap. But Hoyer’s own position that Jewish building in East Jerusalem is acceptable is at odds with the State Department.
The State Department last month summoned Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren to press Israel to stop construction by an American Jewish millionaire in East Jerusalem, according to Israeli media reports. In the midst of dubious directives coming from the White House that have set relations between Jerusalem and Washington on edge, this summer saw the largest delegation of U.S. congressmen ever to visit the Holy Land.
Last week, 25 Republicans, led by Minority Whip Eric Cantor, took the same tour and met with the same leaders as their Democratic peers. Both trips were sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israel lobbyist in Washington. Earlier in the week, the Democrats met with Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who said the chance for peace in the near future had been obliterated by the political situation in Palestinian territories.
“The current situation in which no one authority represents all of the Palestinians, in which there is ‘Hamastan’ in Gaza and ‘Fatahland’ in Judea and Samaria ... buries any possibility to reach a comprehensive settlement with the Palestinians in the next few years,” he said. “The uncompromising, extremist positions of the Palestinians concerning Jerusalem, the right of return (of refugees) and the Jewish settlements create an unbridgeable gap between us.” Hoyer on Thursday blamed the Palestinians for stalled peace talks with Israel.
“The largest thing impeding negotiations at this time is the unwillingness of (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas to sit down now,” Hoyer said. “He had no preconditions with (former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert.” The delegation met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who denounced terrorism and said Israel has a right to exist, but did not specify whether he supported Israel as a Jewish state, a requirement laid out by Netanyahu.
Fayyad has been touted by the West as a moderate Palestinian official untainted by corruption, however, he is unpopular among Palestinians. At the news conference, Hoyer was presented with a report on Palestinian school books, some of which teach jihad and martyrdom, and was handed a map issued this week by the Palestinian Authority Tourism Ministry that labels the land stretching from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea as Palestine with no mention of Israel.
“If we teach our children hate we cannot be surprised that they grow up to hate,” he said. “The teaching of hate and prejudice is unacceptable any place in the world and particularly here.” In response to reporters’ questions concerning reports that the United Nations in the Gaza Strip is subject to the whims of Hamas, Gene Green, D-Texas, said he was going to make sure the UN does not “continue to prop up a terrorist organization like Hamas.”
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