PM on US crisis: Let's not get carried away
At start of cabinet meeting, Netanyahu comments on crisis with US that followed announcement of plans to build in east Jerusalem, says, 'There was an unfortunate incident here which should not have taken place', adds, 'We have seen crises, I suggest we avoid getting carried away'
After receiving a long scolding by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and after convening the seven-minister forum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried on Sunday to convey a calming message: "We opened the newspapers today and read all kinds of commentaries and estimates about the crisis with the United States. I suggest that we avoid getting carried away and calm down."
Netanyahu opened the weekly cabinet meeting saying, "We have already seen crises and what we need is composure. There was an unfortunate incident here which should not have taken place. I asked the ministers not to talk about it. The United States and Israel have joint interests, but we will act in accordance with the State of Israel's interests."
Following the ill-timed announcement of Israel's plans to construct 1,600 new housing units in east Jerusalem during US Vice President Joe Biden's visit, Netanyahu on Saturday decided to form a committee comprising senior officials in the aims of preventing such mishaps.
The new committee will be responsible for establishing procedural guidelines to prevent the reoccurrence of similar incidents in the future.
The team will be headed by Director- General of the Prime Minister Office Eyal Gabai. Other members will include the Interior Ministry director-General, the Housing Ministry director-general and the Jerusalem Municipality director general.
The Likud ministers did not hold their weekly meeting on Sunday, since the prime minister had his hand full with the matter of the budget for the next two years. However, the party's ministers said that they were instructed by Netanyahu not to comment on the latest crisis with the Americans.
"The United States took the matter one step too far. This is a righting government whose position on Jerusalem is well known, and this is the exact same policy that was employed by leftist governments as well," one of the ministers told Ynet, "All the governments built in Jerusalem. They are surely out to get the current Israeli government for unknown reasons."
Another minister backed Netanyahu's remarks, saying, "Despite the embarrassment that the American vice president experienced following the announcement, which was inappropriate and unjustified, things should be put in perspective. This is not a plan for immediate implementation, but a bureaucratic plan. It seems that United States is also trying to create facts ahead of the future process, which aims to end proximity talks in July according the Arab League, while the cabinet's deadline for an end to the West Bank settlement construction freeze is in September."
The minister noted that, "Even in the previous democrat US administrations it was clear that a solution to the border dispute includes a sovereign Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs. So what is this pretence and criticism about?"
'Netanyahu must decide if he is prisoner of haredim'
Meanwhile, Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres later Sunday. The two have recently told their associates that Israel must act fast and determinedly to promote the peace process.
According to sources, both Peres and Barak believe that the incident with Biden was uncalled for, tasteless, and cause seriously damaged ties between the two countries. Last Saturday the defense minister held a number of conversations with Washington and his colleagues in Jerusalem in an attempt to lower the flames, but his efforts so far have proven to be fruitless.
A Labor minister said Sunday morning that despite the prime minister's attempts to calm the situation, the incident has caused a serious crisis with the Americans. "The situation in Washington is serious with regards to Israel. They are sick of the games. The Right cannot undermine Israel's ties with its greatest friend. Netanyahu must decide if he is a prisoner of the haredim and Lieberman, or if he is implementing a serious policy to reach peace with the Palestinians and the establishment of two states. It is not clear at this point how the flames can be lowered," the minister said.
On Friday, the US State Department summoned Israel's Ambassador in Washington Michael Oren for a meeting where he was reprimanded by a US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who harshly criticized Israel's conduct and called for trust-building steps that would allow US special envoy George Mitchell to return to the region and commence talks with the Palestinians.