Jewish Democratic lawmakers are reportedly calling on the White House to tone down its critique of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing the Obama administration of unfairly distributing blame for the impasse in peace efforts.
A dozen House Democrats met with deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes last week, according to Politico, where he was told President Barack Obama was seen as casting the blame for a lack of a diplomatic process with the Palestinians on Israel alone and offering no criticism of the Palestinians’ conduct.
At the same time, a White House official indicated that Washington was satisfied it had conveyed its message in disparaging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s disavowal of the two-state solution, and would cool its criticism of Israeli policies until a new coalition was formed, according to the Politico report.
Still, the official maintained the administration was waiting for Netanyahu to back up his support for the two-state solution with practical efforts to restart peace talks, saying “the next move is theirs.”
‘You want us to go out and say the administration’s got Israel’s back. How are you going to get us to say that, when our constituents believe that the administration is stabbing Israel in the back?’
The report came amid heightened tensions between Washington and Jerusalem over the contours of a deal being brokered between the US and world powers with Tehran over its nuclear program, which Jerusalem has railed against.
Rhodes met with several Jewish Congress members on the Iranian nuclear talks last week, and reportedly asked them to throw their support behind the emerging deal. But the lawmakers swiftly directed the conversation to the administration’s criticism of Israel.
“You want us to go out and say the administration’s got Israel’s back. How are you going to get us to say that, when our constituents believe that the administration is stabbing Israel in the back?” one Democratic Jewish member of Congress reportedly said.
Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), Ted Deutch (D-Florida), Jerry Nadler (D-New York), Adam Schiff (D-California), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), Brad Sherman (D-California), Sander Levin (D-Michigan) and Nita Lowey (D-New York) were present at the meeting.
A source involved with the proceedings said Rhodes defended Obama, insisting Netanyahu was responsible for the diplomatic tensions, but according to the report, he left the meeting “agreeing to relay a message of tamping down the rhetoric.”
A different senior US official said the Jewish Democrats’ complaints were in line with concerns expressed by both AIPAC and Israeli officials
Netanyahu was harshly criticized by the White House over an interview the day before the March 17 election, in which he said that no Palestinian state would be established under his leadership.
The prime minister later clarified those comments and pledged his backing for a two-state solution, but insisted that the regional turmoil and Israeli security considerations meant no such solution could be implemented at this time.
The White House and State Department, in return, rejected Netanyahu’s backtracking. In a press conference last week, Obama said his administration could not base its policies on the “dim” possibility of peace under the prime minister and would have to reevaluate its stance.
Rhodes would not comment on the report.
But an unnamed official quoted by Politico indicated the US would dial back its criticism
“We’ve made our point. The message has clearly been received,” the official said. “The next move is theirs, presumably after the new government has been formed.”
The official conceded that at the time of Netanyahu’s comments “there wasn’t a process to be killed,” but is seeking concrete actions from Netanyahu to prove his commitment to a peace accord.
“You sort of know by actions whether there’s an openness, or whether he’s backing up his words,” the official said.