Tags: US | Jews | fears | Mideast

American Jews Meet Amid Mideast Row

Sunday, 21 March 2010 06:01 PM

WASHINGTON - A pro-Israel conference opening Sunday exposed fears that a row over Jewish settlements had left scars in US-Israeli ties and raised the risk of Israeli strikes against Iran's nuclear program.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- while he visits Washington this week for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) three-day annual policy conference -- is now to meet President Barack Obama Tuesday.

The announcement from Netanyahu's office ended speculation Obama might snub Netanyahu over his government's disclosing plans for new settler homes in east Jerusalem -- a move that prompted the Palestinians to freeze new peace talks.

Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, told the AIPAC lobby that the crisis between the two allies is "serious" and "real" even if both sides now are trying to defuse it.

"When it is resolved -- and I think it is in the process of being resolved -- it will leave scars between the two sides, I think at the very highest levels," said Satloff.

Analysts like Satloff warn the settlements row might complicate a US-led drive for tougher UN sanctions against Iran over its uranium enrichment work, which the United States and Israel fear masks a bid to build an atomic bomb.

Israel has threatened preemptive military strikes against Iran.

"I think that the impact of this crisis is to hasten Iranian efforts to achieve a nuclear weapons capability," Satloff warned.

"And ultimately, because there are scars now in the US-Israeli strategic relationship," the impact may be "even to hasten the clock on Israeli preventive action against that Iranian nuclear capability," he said.

Evan Bayh, a Democratic senator who has pushed for tough US sanctions against Iran, warned that Tehran is making a "miscalculation" if it views the "rhetorical spat... as a lack of resolve" by Washington to halt Iran's nuclear drive.

Bayh said "aggressive sanctions" were needed to show US allies that all peaceful options to make Iran change course were exhausted, and because there was a slight chance they could work.

Sounding more pessimistic than optimistic, however, he said "now we have to turn towards perhaps contemplating the final option -- the use of force -- to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon."

His remarks triggered applause from the thousands of participants.

The opening meetings here helped set the tone for Monday when both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu will deliver speeches. The pair are also due to meet on the AIPAC sidelines.

In the run-up to the policy conference, AIPAC had urged the Obama administration to defuse tension over plans for 1,600 new Jewish settler homes in east Jerusalem.

But in the preceding days, Clinton demanded and received a response from Netanyahu about US concerns over the impact of the settlements.

Sunday, Netanyahu vowed there would be no halt to settlement building in east Jerusalem but, in an apparent concession to the US, said Israel was willing to widen the scope of planned indirect talks with the Palestinians.

His comments on settlements were quickly denounced by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas as unhelpful to attempts to restart talks. Abbas also condemned the recent killing of four Palestinians in the West Bank by Israeli forces.

Other panelists like Meir Brand, a Google regional director for Israel, South Afria and other countries, told the lobby how Israel must keep building on its strength as an "innovation-based economy."

Small groups of protesters, including Jews and non-Jews, stood outside the convention center protesting Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories.

Some handed out maps drawn up by Israelis for Human Rights and other groups showing how the constant march of settlements has turned historic Palestine into a bare shadow of itself six decades after the creation of Israel.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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WASHINGTON - A pro-Israel conference opening Sunday exposed fears that a row over Jewish settlements had left scars in US-Israeli ties and raised the risk of Israeli strikes against Iran's nuclear program.
Sunday, 21 March 2010 06:01 PM
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