Israel shrugs off Mitchell's loan threat
Israel's finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, said on Sunday that Israel could do without loan guarantees after US envoy George Mitchell told PBS last week that the US could consider withholding the guarantees if Israel doesn't stop settlement construction.
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US backing for Israel's loan guarantees has been a hot issue in the past, most pointedly in the early 1990s when the administration of George H. W. Bush faced a head-on collision with the Likud premier, Yitzhak Shamir, who refused to curtail settlement building in the West Bank. Ultimately, the Bush administration decided it would subtract equivalent amounts of money from the $10 billion in loan guarantees for every dollar Israel spent building settlements in the occupied territories. The outcome of the spat was a low-point in US-Israel relations.
"Theoretically of course, the withdrawal of loan guarantees could be an act of pressure, but Israel doesn’t really need loan guarantees," says Peter Medding, an expert on US-Israel relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "But if they try to do it, as they did very unsuccessfully in the early 1990s, it would have to come from the White House. I don't think it's Obama's style, and I don't think it fits the circumstances. If anything, they've been trying to persuade Abbas to come to the party, and are still waiting for him. "
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"Any attempt to pressure Israel, to force Israel, to the negotiating table by denying Israel support will not pass the Congress of the United States," said Senator Lieberman.
Senator McCain added: "We disagree, obviously, with that comment and I am sure that you will see the administration in the future say that is certainly not the administration's policy."
Increased military activity in Gaza
Concurrent with the political tensions is a ratcheting up of military activity over the past few days in and around Gaza. Mr. Netanyahu said that 20 mortars and rockets had been fired at Israel in the past week.
"I regard this very seriously," Netanyahu said Sunday. "The [Israeli Defense Forces] responded immediately; it attacked missile-producing factories in the Gaza Strip and tunnels through which Iran smuggles missiles and rockets into the Strip. The government's policy is clear: Any firing at our territory will be responded to strongly and immediately."
Israel said four missiles were fired at Israel's Negev region from Gaza on Sunday. Palestinian sources reported that Israeli air strikes east of Deir el-Balah killed one and injured several others.
Early Sunday, Palestinians said two Gaza were shot dead in northern Gaza Strip near Israel's security barrier. Israel's military said it was not involved in the incident, according an initial investigation. On Thursday, three Palestinians were killed in a series of Israeli air strikes in Gaza, including the first air raid in months to target a site inside Gaza City.
--- Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.