White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, Monday night that it's not true that Vice President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel's hardline position on building settlements in disputed territories is endangering the lives of US troop, as has been reported in the media, a White House official tells ABC News.
Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, as posted by Politico’s Laura Rozen, Israeli journalist Shimon Shiffer reported that, behind closed doors Biden told Netanyahu, “this is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
As reported by Politico this morning,Cantor had called Emanuel to tell him that the Obama administration needs to “ratchet down the rhetoric” regarding Israel, a source in Cantor’s office says, arguing “that Israel is a strategic ally, and it’s very damaging for the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to say that the US-Israel relationship has been ‘injured.”
The Minority Whip, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, told Emanuel, whose father is from Israel, that “Biden’s comments were unhelpful at best," after which Emanuel said the comments, as reported, were not true.
Referencing his complaints from last week that Cantor feels insufficiently consulted by the White House, a White House aide commented that Cantor might hear from the White House more if he could be trusted not to leak foreign policy conversations to reporters.
Last week, after Biden’s arrival was met with an announcement of 1,600 new housing units – a diplomatic slap in the face – the Obama administration asserted that such actions were damaging, and Israel-US relations have hit a tense point not seen in decades, the Israeli Ambassador to the US has been reported as saying, though he has denied having made the comment.*
Foreign Policy reports that CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus is very concerned about the “growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that” the envoy for Israel-Palestinian peace, George Mitchell is “(as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) ‘too old, too slow … and too late.’”
On Sunday on THIS WEEK, I asked White House senior adviser David Axelrod if Israel’s position on the settlements issue put the lives of US troops at risk. Axelrod didn’t directly answer the question, saying, “ it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people — who were, remember, at war just a year ago — but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.”
Today Reps. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Christopher P. Carney, D-Penn., sent a letter to President Obama calling the U.S.-Israel relationship “an extraordinary relationship unlike any other in American history” and urging the administration to “refrain from further public criticism of Israel and to focus on more pressing issues affecting this vital relationship, such as signing and enforcing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act when it comes to your desk.”
UPATE: Tuesday afternoon, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said: "I was flagrantly misquoted about remarks I made in a confidential briefing this past Saturday. Recent events do not — I repeat — do not represent the lowest point in the relations between Israel and the United States. Though we differ on certain issues, our discussions are being conducted in an atmosphere of cooperation as befitting long-standing relations between allies. I am confident that we will overcome these differences shortly."