News / USA

White House Advisor: Israel Undermining Mideast Peace

Michael Bowman

The Obama administration continues to blast Israel's announcement it will build new housing in disputed East Jerusalem.  VOA reports from Washington on the uncharacteristically blunt language that continues to flow between the United States and Israel.

Days have passed since Israel announced its intention to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, but the Obama administration's anger appears undiminished.

Senior White House advisor David Axelrod on NBC's Meet the Press television program.

"This was an affront, it was an insult," Axelrod said. "But most importantly, it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region."

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state under a "two-state" solution that has been the focus of on-again, off-again Middle East peace discussions promoted by the United States for years.  Axelrod said Israel's construction announcement makes an elusive accord even harder to reach.

"We just now have started proximity talks - that is, shuttle diplomacy between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Axelrod said. "And for this announcement to come at that time was very, very destructive."

Israeli officials have expressed regret for the timing of the announcement, but not for its substance.  The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to defend its policy of expanding Jewish settlements.

For decades, Israel has been America's closest ally in the Middle East and a top recipient of U.S. aid.  Asked whether the United States is demanding a halt to new Israeli construction in disputed territory, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had this to say.

"[U.S.] Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton had a very clear conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu where she outlined some steps that we believe he should take," Gibbs said. "I am not going to get into them here.  That was part of a private conversation.  I think the Israelis have a sense of what they need to do now."

Gibbs was speaking on Fox News Sunday.

Meanwhile, Palestinians have threatened to cancel indirect negotiations, which they agreed to one week ago, before the Israeli announcement.  

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is scheduled to visit the region to lay groundwork for the indirect talks.

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