US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that Israel must prove it is committed to the Mideast peace process with actions but brushed aside suggestions that US-Israeli relations are in crisis and reaffirmed America's steadfast commitment to the security of the Jewish state.
Clinton said American and Israeli officials were in intense talks about how to repair the damage caused by last week's Israeli announcement of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country. She said the goal was to relaunch stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
"We are enaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the process," she told reporters at a joint State Department news conference with visiting Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin.
"It's been a very important effort on their part as well as ours," Clinton said. "We know how hard this is, this is a very difficult, complex matter. But the Obama administration is committed to a two-state solution, we are committed to a resumption of the negotiations between the parties."
Clinton may meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter's visit to Washington next week. The two will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday, and Netanyahu is interested in meeting Vice President Joe Biden as well. He will not meet with President Barack Obama, who is expected to be in the Far East during Netanyahu's visit.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley confirmed Tuesday that a meeting between Clinton and Netanyahu was possible, but did not say whether the meeting depended on Israel's response to Clinton's demands. A senior US official said the response would likely come in a telephone call from Netanyahu to Clinton before she leaves for Moscow on Wednesday.
The announcement of the approval of 1,600 new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want to be the capital of a future state, while Biden was in Israel deeply embarrassed the administration and Clinton has called it an insult. The uproar has led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.
Clinton restated US "dismay and disappointment" with the announcement but disputed the perception of the relationship in crisis.
"I don't buy that," she said. "I have been around a long time, not that long, but a long time. We have an absolute commitment to Israel's security. We have a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American and Israeli people who share common values and a commitment to a democratic future for the world."
Clinton said she remained confident that the US special Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, who abruptly postponed a visit to the region this week, would return soon and begin shuttling between the Israelis and Palestinians for indirect negotiations.
"We'll see what the next days hold and we're looking forward to Senator Mitchell returning to the region and beginning the proximity talks," she said. She added that she thought Mitchell's "legendary patience will win the day as the process gets started again because there is just too much at stake for both the Palestinians and the Israelis."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, echoing Clinton, also sought to put the settlement dispute into perspective.
"Mature bilateral relationships can have disagreements and this is one of those disagreements," he said. "It does not break the unbreakable bond we have" with Israel.
PM's Office: We're committed to peace
The Prime Minister's Office released a statement Tuesday evening, saying that "the State of Israel highly appreciates the secretary of state's warm words. The Israeli government in the past year has proved its commitment to peace, both in words and in actions, including by removing hundreds of roadblocks and in its decision to freeze construction in settlements.
"The Palestinians, on the other hand, are imposing preconditions for resuming the peace process as they have not done in 16 years. They are engaged in an offensive aimed at delegitimizing Israel using the Goldstone Report and continue to incite to hatred and violence, including in a decision to inaugurate a square in Ramallah named after a terrorist responsible for the murder of dozens of Israelis."
Earlier Tuesday, Republican Whip Eric Cantor turned to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and demanded an end to the crisis with Israel as soon as possible. Cantor told Ynet that he and Emanuel had discussed the importance of US-Israel relations and the need to work with "our friends" against the Iranian nuclear threat and the threat of radical Islam.
Cantor, a senior Republican official, defined the Obama administration's attitude towards Israel as "irresponsible and dangerous".
Democratic Congress members who have avoided intervening in the situation due to their good relations with Obama, have also begun demanding that the White House ease its pressure on Israel.
Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York released a statement saying that the appropriate response to Israel's new construction plan in east Jerusalem was "a shake of the head – not a temper tantrum".
“Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already," he added.
Congressman Steve Rothman of New Jersey said that "the vital national security interests of the US heavily depend on the survival and security of the State of Israel, just as Israel’s vital national security is heavily dependent on its relationship with the US."
He expressed his confidence in the two countries' ability to overcome the current rift, saying that they "have weathered temporary diplomatic storms and diversions of every nature and size for more than 60 years. I am confident that nothing has or will occur that will change that, especially given the stakes for both countries."
Roni Sofer and Reuters contributed to this report