Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will continue discussions with his senior ministers, looking for a way out of the crisis with the US. He received some badly needed support on Friday from 327 congressmen, who signed a letter expressing concern that “the highly publicized tensions” in US-Israeli ties will “not advance the interests” of either state.
Netanyahu convened his six senior ministers, a forum known as the “Septet,” on Friday to discuss his recent trip to the US and President Barack Obama’s demands, which reportedly include ending Israeli building in east Jerusalem, releasing security prisoners to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, accepting the Palestinian demand that the core issues – settlements, borders, Jerusalem and refugees – be discussed in indirect talks with the US as mediators, and extending Israel’s 10-month moratorium on housing starts in West Bank settlements.
The five-hour meeting on Friday ended just before Shabbat, without any clear decisions. Netanyahu’s spokesman, Nir Hefetz, issued a statement saying only that additional meetings with the Septet would be held in the coming days, and that there would be continued contacts with the US administration to find an agreed-upon way to restart the diplomatic process.
The US had been pressing for a quick reply to then take to the Arab League meeting in Libya and try to get that group’s backing for proximity talks – an eventuality that now seems increasingly unlikely. The US demands, and Netanyahu’s trip, are expected to come up at Sunday’s weekly meeting of the full cabinet.
Meanwhile, in Washington, 337 congressmen – three-quarters of the House of Representatives – signed a bipartisan letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing solid support for Israel and the expectation that differences between Jerusalem and Washington will be smoothed over quickly and in private.
“We are writing to reaffirm our commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists between our country and the State of Israel and to express to you our deep concern over recent tension,” the letter read. “A strong Israel is an asset to the national security of the United States and brings stability to the Middle East.
“We are concerned that the highly publicized tensions in the relationship will not advance the interests the US and Israel share. Above all, we must remain focused on the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear weapons program to Middle East peace and stability.”
The letter stated that the US’s unswerving commitment to Israel’s security has been essential in forging previous Israeli-Arab peace agreements, “both because it convinced those who sought Israel’s destruction to abandon any such hope and because it gave successive Israeli governments the confidence to take calculated risks for peace.”
The letter, signed by both House Majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), said the Israeli-US relationship needed “constant reinforcement,” and quoted Vice President Joe Biden’s comment while in Israel recently that “progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the US and Israel when it comes to security, none. No space.”
“We recognize that despite the extraordinary closeness between our country and Israel there will be differences over issues both large and small,” the letter continued. “Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding strategic allies. We hope and expect that, with mutual effort and good faith, the United States and Israel will move beyond this disruption quickly, to the lasting benefit of both nations.”
One senior government official in Jerusalem, asked about the letter, said it was important since it “showed the support Israel enjoys among the American people, as reflected in their congressmen.”
The American Israel Political Affairs Committee issued a statement applauding “this enormous outpouring of support” and expressing appreciation to Hoyer, Cantor, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-California), Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), Mideast subcommittee Chairman Gary Ackerman (D-New York) and Ranking Member Dan Burton (R-Indiana) “for their leadership on this letter and for the unprecedented speed with which the effort took place.”
It took just three days, the AIPAC statement said, to get the 327 signatures.