American Israel Public Affairs Committee circulates letter urging White House to 'reinforce' relationship with
· Chris McGreal in
· guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 March 2010 19.24 BST
The move, by the American
Aipac has persuaded more than three-quarters of the members of the US House of Representatives to sign a letter calling for an end to public criticism of Israel and urging the US to "reinforce" its relationship with the Jewish state.
The open letter, which has been circulating among members of Congress for the last week, says that while it is recognised that there will be differences between the two countries, they should be kept behind closed doors. "Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence," it says.
The public differences, and revelations of Obama's private snubs of Netanyahu at the White House last week, have proved embarrassing to the Israeli leader at home, where he has been accused of undermining Israel's most important relationship.
Signatories to Aipac's letter include Steny Hoyer, the Democrat majority leader, and Eric Cantor, the Republican whip. The wording is similar to an email Aipac sent out during Netanyahu's visit, describing Obama's criticisms of the Israeli government as "a matter of serious concern" and calling on the
But while Aipac has for years influenced
Robert Malley, a former special assistant to President Bill Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs, said the administration's decision to take a once routine disagreement over settlement construction in
"This episode tells us more about the past and the future than the present. It's a reflection of the accumulated frustration and mistrust of the Netanyahu government by the White House. For the future, they're headed for a collision on the pace and nature of peace negotiations," he said. "We're seeing determination."
A source, who is consulted by administration officials on
Netanyahu appears to have been caught off guard by Obama's stand, perhaps because he was overconfident of being able to bypass the administration by relying on strong support for
That is, in part, because there is little enthusiasm for Jewish settlements. In addition, the White House has played an unusual card in suggesting that Netanyahu's intransigence is endangering US interests in the Middle East, and the lives of US soldiers in
"So far, I've been surprised by how muted congressional reaction has been," said Malley. "It may come, but if the administration manages to portray this as an issue of
However, there are reports of divisions within the administration on how to proceed. The
But other officials argue against forcing Netanyahu to make compromises that will bring down his rightwing coalition. There has been criticism from Dennis Ross, who served as Bill Clinton's
Malley says that whatever the Obama administration does it is almost certain to lead to further confrontation with the Israeli government. "The next crisis is more or less inevitable, given the diverging views of the Israeli and US governments on the pace and direction of the emerging talks," he said.
"We must not be trapped by an illogical and unreasonable demand."
Binyamin Netanyahu, below, on Obama's demand for an end to settlement construction in
"I think at one point the [Israeli] prime minister added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between building in
White House spokesman on Netanyahu's reaction to the demand for an end to settlement construction.
"We recognise that, despite the extraordinary closeness between our country and
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 19.24 BST on Tuesday 30 March 2010. A version appeared on p16 of the Main section section of the Guardian on Wednesday 31 March 2010. It was last modified at 23.42 BST on Tuesday 30 March 2010.
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