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Rocky time for U.S. Israeli relations as Zionists, politicians dismiss critics

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Correspondent- | Last updated: Apr 9, 2010 - 3:00:43 PM

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‘I made it clear that all settlement activity is illegal and that inserting settlers into Palestinian communities in Jerusalem is particularly troubling. This leads to tensions and undermines prospects for addressing the final status of Jerusalem.’
—General Ban Ki-moon United Nations, Secretary-General
WASHINGTON ( - The “rock solid” relationship between the governments of the United States and Israel appears to have remained intact after reaching an impasse when Israel announced it would expand its illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories and Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended a stay in Washington for a day for an additional, closed-to-the-press, White House meeting with President Barack Obama March 24.

Despite condemnation of their actions by U.S. and world leaders, the Israelis have remained intransigent. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed his stance that Israeli settlements are illegal.

“I made it clear that all settlement activity is illegal and that inserting settlers into Palestinian communities in Jerusalem is particularly troubling,” said Mr. Ban March 23. “This leads to tensions and undermines prospects for addressing the final status of Jerusalem. Yesterday's announcement that final approval has been given to build 20 settlement units in Sheikh Jarrah is unacceptable.”

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did criticize Israel for continuing to build settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, she told attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference March 22 that the U.S. commitment to Israel is “rock-solid.”

“New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say they want and need. And it exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit. It undermines America's unique ability to play a role, an essential role, in the peace process,” Mrs. Clinton said.

But in a defiant speech hours after Mrs. Clinton's address, Mr. Netanyahu rejected U.S. criticism and vowed to continue building settlements.

“Everyone knows—everyone, Americans, Europeans, Israelis certainly, Palestinians—everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. And therefore, building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution,” Mr. Netanyahu declared.

The White House was mum about the meetings. In a rare move, news coverage was barred of the White House meeting, and neither side made public statements.

But Mr. Netanyahu found an openly friendly environment on Capitol Hill. He met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner, who each pledged unwavering bipartisan support for the Israeli government.

Mrs. Pelosi said there is zero difference between the two main parties when it comes to backing Israeli policies. “We in Congress stand by Israel, something we have a joint bipartisan commitment. No separation between us on this subject. In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel. Together we remain committed to advancing the peace process, preserving Israel's security, responsible sanctions against Iran,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters after the meeting.

Peace activists took vocal exception to Mr. Netanyahu's visit however. Members of the group Code Pink interrupted Mr. Netanyahu's speech before AIPAC on two occasions March 22 with calls to freeze settlement building—“build peace not settlements”—and end the U.S.-backed blockade of the Gaza Strip. One protester said Israel is guilty of war crimes before being escorted from the event.

Code Pink members demonstrated at former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech to AIPAC March 24, and they protested Mr. Netanyahu's visit to Capitol Hill.

Code Pink members, set up mock Jewish “settlements” inside the offices of Senators Charles Shumer (D-N.Y.), and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), according to Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin.

Code Pink also released a spoof press release in AIPAC's name calling for a complete freeze on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, prompting an embarrassed AIPAC denial. “AIPAC does not support the policy of the U.S. government right now,” Ms. Benjamin told The Final Call.

“Now we can quote Gen. (David) Petraeus and Adm. (Mike) Mullen (Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) who have said that the policies of U.S. unconditional support to Israel are endangering our troops overseas. And in the Arab world it's going to be very hard for the U.S. to have friendship with the Arab world as long as we are seen as being supportive of Israeli policies that are killing Palestinians and stealing their land,” Ms. Benjamin said.

Code Pink members also dressed up in suits and handed out copies of their fake statement outside the AIPAC conference to confused attendees.

“We're using the mock tone, and we're a little over the top,” said Ms. Benjamin. “We say: ‘Give all our money to Israel. Who needs education? Who needs healthcare in the United States, when we can support the richest country in the Middle East to make bombs and build settlements that destroy the homes of Palestinians.'

“When people see with their own eyes what is being done by the Israelis with our tax dollars, they get horrified and very committed,” she said.

But Congress is a long way from demanding any change in Israeli policies, according to Code Pink. “Members of Congress are still very afraid to come over to our side,” Ms. Benjamin continued. “They feel like the tide has not turned enough for them to be comfortable.

“In fact, we talked to Congress people on their way into AIPAC yesterday and they said that they support a freeze in settlements, and they're concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but they are still going to bow down before the people of AIPAC, because they are afraid.

“So we've got to build a stronger movement that gives people in Congress the ability to do what's right,” said Ms. Benjamin.

For its part, despite verbally objecting to the beligerent Israeli policies, the Obama administration has not threatened any punitive measures, including withholding any of the billions of dollars in U.S.-Israeli aid.

Related links:

Israel's Netanyahu defiant in the face of American, world criticism (FCN, 04-01-2010)

Picking on AIPAC? (Philip Giraldi, 05-19-2009)

President Obama Lost a Battle to Israel Lobby (FCN, 04-18-2009)

Media controversy highlights rift in Jewish community (FCN, 08-14-2008)

Pro-Israel lobby dictates U.S. policy, study charges (FCN, 04-05-2006)