Tags: Obama | Israel | peace | Repubicans

As Obama Lashes Out at Israel, Republicans Push Back

Tuesday, 16 March 2010 09:36 AM

WASHINGTON - Republican lawmakers came out swinging against President Barack Obama's hard line toward Israel over its controversial plans to expand a settlement in disputed East Jerusalem.

The number two Republican in the House of Representatives deplored the Obama administration's stance on Israel as "irresponsible" a week after Israel gave the green light to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in the area the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top officials said last week's announcement of the new construction was insulting and damaging to efforts to revive long-stalled peace talks.

"To say that I am deeply concerned with the irresponsible comments that the White House, vice president and the secretary of state have made against Israel is an understatement," said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives.

"In an effort to ingratiate our country with the Arab world, this administration has shown a troubling eagerness to undercut our allies and friends," he said on Monday.

He said the administration's public spat with the Jewish State "jeopardizes America's national security."

Hours later, in a sign of the deepening rift between Washington and Jerusalem, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell postponed a visit to Israel on Tuesday, a US official said.

"This is a matter of logistics. He had a schedule change in Washington. He had some consultations for today that he needed to attend," the official said.

Mitchell is likely to return to the region following a meeting of the diplomatic Quartet for the Middle East peace process -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- in Moscow on March 19, the official added.

The postponement comes amid a growing diplomatic crisis that 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.

The government of hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave permission for the new construction in Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood on March 9, just as Biden visited Israel, sparking a major diplomatic crisis.

Israel's ambassador to Washington said bilateral relations have hit a 35-year low.

It also came just two days after the Palestinians had reluctantly agreed to hold indirect, US-brokered negotiations with Israel.

Senator Sam Brownback said in a statement that "it's hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace."

The Kansas Republican, a staunch defender of Israel in Congress, said it would be "far more worthwhile" for the administration to focus its efforts instead on shifting the location of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a highly controversial proposal.

There are no embassies in Jerusalem, as Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War in a move the international community does not recognize. Israel considers all of the city its capital despite Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem.

Brownback also urged the Obama administration to narrow its focus on the "growing Iranian nuclear threat," referring to the Islamic republic's continued defiance of international calls to halt its controversial uranium enrichment program. Israel considers Iran an existential threat.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded that the Obama administration halt its condemnations of "an indispensable ally and friend of the United States."

"US condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike," she said.

Ros-Lehtinen added that she was "deeply concerned" about the administration's "softer approaches" toward the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Iran.

Iran and Syria are the main foreign backers of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah but both deny that they provide anything other than moral support.

Washington also accuses Syria of turning a blind eye to militants crossing its border into Iraq.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 09:36 AM
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