U.S., Israel at Odds Over Settlements

Clinton calls the timing of Israel's settlement announcement "insulting."

March 13, 2010, 9:14 PM

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2010— -- The United States is using some of the toughest talk ever against Israel, one of its closest allies and perhaps most complicated geo-political relationship.

In an interview with CNN on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lambasted Israel for the timing of its announcement to expand settlements into East Jerusalem, a decision that coincided with a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

"The announcement of the settlements on the very day that the vice president was there was insulting," she said. "I mean, it was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone -- the United States, our vice president, who had gone to reassert America's strong support for Israeli security -- and I regret deeply that that occurred."

U.S. officials say Israel's decision to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines American efforts to lay a foundation for a two-state solution and ultimately some kind of lasting peace in the region.

"This action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and America's interest," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement earlier this week, but he insisted that East Jerusalem is fair game for Israeli settlements.

Still the United States is taking the situation very personally. Biden publicly condemned Israel in a speech Thursday at Tel Aviv University.

"Because that decision in my view undermined the trust required for productive negotiations, I, at the request of President Obama, condemned it immediately and unequivocally," he said.

Jewish-American groups that support Israel are also joining the war of words.

"We are shocked and stunned at the Administration's tone and public dressing down of Israel," Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman said in a statement. "We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States."

If there is a new chill between the U.S. and Israeli governments, analysts say it will freeze more than a friendship.

"It's not just the pride of the United States of America," said Shibley Telhami, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It's not just the short-term relationship between Israel and the U.S., it is really the future of peace in the Middle East."

All of this makes things complicated for the Obama administration. Now that members of the administration have publically condemned Israel for expanding settlements, if Israel is perceived to undermine the peace process again, analysts say U.S. officials may feel pressure to use more than tough talk.

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