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Monday, March 15, 2010

Israel and U.S. in "Crisis"

The dispute that started when Israel approved zoning in a controversial area of Jerusalem during Joe Biden's visit to the region has turned into crisis.

U.S.-Israeli relations have hit a 35-year low over a contentious east Jerusalem building project that threatens to derail peacemaking efforts with the Palestinians, Israel's envoy to Washington was quoted as saying Monday.

Ambassador Michael Oren's remarks clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assurances that the political turmoil resulting from the settlement
announcement, which the Obama administration slammed as "an insult," was under

"Israel's ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975 ... a crisis of historic proportions," the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted Oren as saying to Israeli diplomats in a phone briefing over the weekend.

This spat has showed just how far relationships have deteriorated. Without taking sides, it's remarkable that such a disagreement would be characterized as a crisis.

Joe Biden was in the region when some yet unnamed bureaucrat in the interior department announced the approval for zoning of new construction of apartment buildings in a contentious part of Jerusalem.

That lead to a public rebuke by Biden. It then lead to a screaming match by phone by Hillary Clinton and her counterpart which was then leaked to the press and hyperanalyzed.

Now, the entire relationship appears on the brink. Yet, unconfirmed reports have the U.S. demanding this of Israel.

They also reported that the U.S. wants Israel to make a significant confidence-building gesture toward the Palestinians. Suggestions included releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails; turning over additional areas of the West Bank to Palestinian control; removing some of the roadblocks hampering the movement of Palestinians and goods in the West Bank; and easing the blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, media reported.

That's a request that Israel is unlikely to accept. Relations between the two nations have been contentious since the U.S. made a pet project out of ending their (Israel's) expansion of settlements. Obama's approval was once down in the single digits in Israel. The Israeli Ambassador is calling this " Worst crisis with US since '75"

Israel’s ambassador to Washington Michael Oren convened Foreign Ministry consuls for an emergency briefing, and told them the crisis between Israel and the US is the worst since 1975, Army Radio reported.

Oren was referring to a crisis that evolved when Israel refused to sign a treaty to withdraw forces from Sinai in 1975.

In an unusual move, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) made a public call on the White House to tone down the rhetoric. The lobby said statements made by senior officials in US President Barack Obama’s administration were “very worrying.”

The comparison in crises is interesting. The last included a war and this includes a zoning approval. That's how far we've come.

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