US Israel settlements fight marks lowest point since 1970s: ambassador
In a bid to cool tensions with the US over Israeli settlements, which Israel's ambassador described as the lowest point in diplomatic relations since the 1970s, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized again Sunday for last week's announcement of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. His political future may be in jeopardy.
Despite an attempt by Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to downplay the angry messages from US officials over plans for new homes in East Jerusalem, Israel's envoy in Washington believes it’s the worst crisis between the allies in more than a generation.Skip to next paragraph
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Ambassador Michael Oren told Israeli consuls in the US during a conference that a nearly week-old public fight that broke out during Vice President Joe Biden's visit marks a low point in diplomatic relations since the mid-1970s when the Ford administration reassessed ties with Israel over a disengagement agreement with Egypt and froze arms shipments. President Barack Obama has been pushing for a full Israel settlement freeze to get peace talks with the Palestinians restarted.
The leak of the ambassador's statement to Israeli newspapers Monday could hurt Netanyahu's standing in Israel, where public opinion is historically unforgiving toward leaders who don't manage US relations well, said experts.
"You don't want to be the prime minister that's the worst in the relationship with the US,'' says Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster. "[Former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon was wildly popular, and one of those reasons is because of a close relationship with [Former President George W.] Bush.''
A spokesperson from the foreign ministry did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Another apology for 1,600 new homes
Amid an unusually high-profile flap over Israeli settlements, Netanyahu on Sunday apologized again for what he called the unintentional publication last week of plans to build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state and which was seized by Israel in the 1967 war. News of the project has prompted the Palestinians to threaten a boycott of negotiations that the US had finally succeeded in renewing, spurring an unusual series of public criticisms of Israel from the Obama administration.
The announcement of the plans came from the Interior Ministry, which is headed by Eli Yishai of the religious nationalist Shas party, prompting speculation that the move was designed to derail Biden's visit and make Netanyahu look bad.