White House criticizes housing minister

"Unilateral actions that make it more difficult to resume face-to-face negotiations are not things that we view favorably."

The day before US President Barack Obama's visit to Israel, the White House indirectly condemned remarks by new Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Yehuda Ariel that construction in the settlements will continue.

In an interview with Channel 10, Ariel said that he had no intention of halting construction in the settlements. "We will continue to build beyond the Green Line at the same scale as before. I see no reason to change this."

At yesterday's press briefing, asked whether the housing minister's remarks were helpful on the eve of the presidents visit, White House spokesman Jay Carney replied, "Well, I dont have anything specific on that particular announcement, except what our general position is, is that unilateral actions that make it more difficult to engage - to resume face-to-face negotiations, direct negotiations, are not things that we view favorably. And that was true of unilateral efforts at the United Nations by the Palestinians, and its been true of actions by the Israelis.

"It is in our view and its the position of the Israeli leadership that a two-state solution is the preferred goal here for both Israelis and Palestinians, and that all of us who are party to that process, but in particular the Israelis and Palestinians, ought to take steps that enhance the prospect of progress. But beyond that, I havent gotten any specific reaction."

The Obama administration frequently criticizes the settlements, but this was apparently the first criticism by the White House of remarks by a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's third government.

Another correspondent at the press briefing asked what type of reception President Obama was expecting, in the light of a recent poll in Israel showing that only 10% of Israelis view him favorably.

Carney replied, "Well, the president will visit Israel with a message about the enduring relationship between the United States and Israel, about the unshakeable commitment the United States has to Israels security - a commitment that is measured not just in the amount of assistance, but in the strong bonds that our people share.

"When it comes to this administrations commitment to Israels security, I think I could point you to comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu, by Ehud Barak, and others who have offered their opinions about the fact that no previous administration has done so much for Israels security as this administration has. And the president will certainly talk about that.

"He looks forward to speaking about the future of the relationship, especially with Israeli youth. And I can tell you hes very much looking forward to this trip. Hes looking forward to his meetings with Israeli leaders, as well as Palestinian leaders and the King of Jordan. So I think its going to be a very important and worthwhile trip."

Some sources in Israel and the US have criticized Obama's decision to speak at Jerusalem's Binyanei Ha'Uma Convention Center, instead of addressing the Knesset. Asked about this, Carney replied, "The president will speak to all of the Israeli people in front of an audience of young Israelis who have it within their hands the power to shape Israel's future. And he thinks that's entirely appropriate. And he will be meeting with Israeli leaders and government officials, of course. And the president's message will be heard by Israelis who are both members of the Knesset and who are not."

In a message to the people of Iran to mark the Persian New Year, Nawruz, Obama yesterday said that the Iranian people were paying a high price for the refusal of their leaders to halt their efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon. "Finding a solution will be no easy task. But if we can, the Iranian people will begin to see the benefits of greater trade and ties with other nations, including the United States. Whereas if the Iranian government continues down its current path, it will only further isolate Iran. This is the choice now before Irans leaders."

Obama added, "I have had no illusions about the difficulty of overcoming decades of mistrust. It will take a serious and sustained effort to resolve the many differences between Iran and the United States. This includes the worlds serious and growing concerns about Irans nuclear program, which threatens peace and security in the region and beyond."

Yesterday, "The New York Times" quoted analysts as saying that, this time, Obama may have better odds of success than he has had in the past in persuading Netanyahu that he can rely on the US to deal with Iran's efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon. "Public disagreements between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu over how to deal with Iran have waned in recent months," the paper adds. "This comes from a combination of the presidents repeated warnings to Tehran; Irans strategy of not crossing Israels red lines while continuing to build its nuclear program; and changes in Israels political landscape, which have weakened Mr. Netanyahu and made a unilateral military strike less likely."

"The New York Times" quotes Eurasia Group Iran expert Cliff Kupchan as saying, "What Netanyahu wants to be persuaded of is that the chances Obama will take care of the problem, combined with his assessment of the decay of the Iranian economy, justifies Israel standing down this year." He added, "What Mr. Obama can offer will be enough for a weakened Israeli prime minister."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 19, 2013

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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