Israel-US relations at 'historic' crisis point
Published 16/03/2010 | 05:00
Israel has admitted that its relations with the United States are in a "crisis of historic proportions" after the row over plans to build 1,600 homes for Jewish settlers in Jerusalem.
Officials said they had hit a "35-year low" after a visit by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, last week was overshadowed by the building plans.
Washington has warned Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, that he will remain out of favour unless he agrees to a series of politically painful demands. In a telephone call, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, ordered Mr Netanyahu to reverse the decision to build the 1,600 homes in occupied East Jerusalem that provoked the diplomatic row.
She also instructed him to issue a formal pledge that peace talks would focus on core issues such as the future of Jerusalem and the borders of a Palestinian state.
In addition, the Israeli prime minister was urged to make a substantial confidence-building gesture to the Palestinians. Mrs Clinton suggested this could take the form of prisoner releases, an easing of the blockade of Gaza and the transfer of greater territory in the West Bank to Palestinian control.
Signalling the depth of America's displeasure, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to Washington, told colleagues the crisis was one of "historic" proportions. Not since the Gerald Ford administration had demanded Israel's partial withdrawal from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in 1975 had ties been so strained, he was quoted as saying.
Mr Oren spoke after being summoned for what he described as an "extremely harsh" reprimand at the State Department. The Obama administration's anger towards Israel reflects a growing perception in Washington that Mr Netanyahu is deliberately seeking to scupper the US president's attempts to resurrect the Middle East peace process.
Israel has consistently refused Palestinian demands for a limited halt to all Jewish construction on land captured during the Six Day War of 1967, although Mr Netanyahu has agreed to slow down building in the West Bank for 10 months.
US anger has been exacerbated by the humiliation and embarrassment suffered by Mr Biden, who had expected to announce new talks during his visit last week. Mr Biden is thought to have been under the impression that he had broken the impasse after securing a private commitment from Mr Netanyahu that no new building would begin in East Jerusalem while talks were under way.
But just hours after Mr Biden triumphantly heralded a new era of compromise, matters quickly soured when approval was given for the homes in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem. (© Daily Telegraph, London)