US-Israel relationship in turmoil

Israel’s ambassador to Washington
has privately conceded that his country’s relationship with the US is in its
worst “crisis” for almost three decades.

During a weekend briefing with
Israeli diplomats in the US, Michael Oren, the ambassador, reached back many
years to find parallels for the present dispute over the decision to build
another 1,600 homes inside a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.

According to officials, he said
this “crisis” was comparable to the row with the US over Israel’s invasion of
Lebanon in 1982 and to disagreements sparked by tensions with the Arab states
in the 1970s. The Israeli embassy in Washington said it did not discuss
internal briefings publicly.

Senior US officials, including
Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, have condemned Israel for its “insulting”
decision to expand the settlement of Ramat Shlomo in occupied East Jerusalem
when Joe Biden, the vice-president, was visiting the country to restart peace
talks with the Palestinian leadership.

In an angry 45-minute telephone
conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, Mrs Clinton
urged Israel to abandon the plan. “I think it’s pretty obvious that we have
asked that,” said a state department official. “We need to do something that is
significant that shows they [the Israelis] are committed to this process and
Middle East peace. It’s not about the words, we are looking for actions.”

While expressing regret at the
timing of the move, Mr Netanyahu stressed on Monday that Israel would continue
to build homes for Jews in Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as
the capital of a future independent state.

“The building in Jerusalem and in
all other places will continue in the same way that has been customary over the
last 42 years,” he told his Likud party.