Democrats criticize Obama, highlight seriousness of U.S.-Israel flap

13:13, April 18, 2010      

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Members of U.S. President Barack Obama's own party are criticizing him for his treatment of Israel, a longtime ally in the Middle East, underscoring the seriousness of the crisis in relations between the two countries.

Seventy-six senators including 38 Democrats criticized Obama's stance on Israel in a letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, warning the administration not to allow the current tiff to harm relations between the two countries, reported Politico, a publication that covers Capitol Hill.

Part of the letter read:

We recognize that our government and the Government of Israel will not always agree on particular issues in the peace process. But such differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies. We must never forget the depth and breadth of our alliance and always do our utmost to reinforce a relationship that has benefited both nations for more than six decades.

Key Democrats such as Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan and Chuck Schumer of New York signed on, and House members also penned a similar letter, which amassed more than 300 signatures, Politico reported.

And on Wednesday, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch also a Democrat poured on more criticism, slamming Obama for his treatment of Israel.

"I have been a supporter of President Obama and went to Florida for him, urged Jews all over the country to vote for him saying that he would be just as good as John McCain on the security of Israel. I don't think it's true anymore," he told Fox News in a televised interview.

Koch's statement sparked speculation about whether Jewish constituents -- an important voting block and source of funding for Democrats could rethink their support for Obama.

The flap began last month when Israel announced the building of 1,600 new Jewish housing units in what the Obama administration viewed as a snub to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden the Obama administration views the settlements as an obstacle to the peace process during his visit to Jerusalem.

In response, the Obama administration publicly upbraided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and later gave him a chilly reception at the White House.

"I think (the letter) reflects a genuine concern in the Congress about the course of U.S.-Israeli relations," said Daniel Brumberg, a Middle East expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace think tank.

Recent developments suggest a major conceptual divide between how the United States views Arab-Israeli peacemaking and how the Israeli government sees it, he said.

And getting the relationship back on track could require a personal visit to Israel from the U.S. president to explain why the administration believes that Arab Israeli peace is central to Israel's own security, he said.

"There has to be a major effort by the president to get as involved as he was in the health care issue," he said.

Still, some key senators did not sign onto the letter and may be waiting to see whether Obama's pushback can yield any results, said Kyle Spector, policy advisor for national security at Third Way think tank.

Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, refrained from signing, as did Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and ranking member Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana.

But in spite of strained relations, the two countries have had a long standing relationship with many wrinkles that were eventually ironed out, some experts noted. And this spat is also likely to be resolved.

In 1969-70, President Richard Nixon pressured Israel to accept a new cease-fire with Egypt along the Suez Canal and even slowed arms shipments to Israel.

In 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced a " reassessment" of U.S. policy and again slowed aid to press Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's new government for a withdrawal from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan pressed Israel hard to stop bombarding Beirut, Lebanon and withdraw from most of that country, in part through public hints of changes in the relationship.

In 1996 and again in 1999, President Bill Clinton refused to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and publicly hinted that Israelis should vote for Netanyahu's political rivals.

And President George W. Bush privately pressed Israel on some points, such as allowing Hamas to run in the Palestinian election in 2006, though without a public crisis.

Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton on Thursday called on Israeli leaders to be more active in pursuing peace with Palestinians.

Source: Xinhua


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