Republicans push Obama on Israel ‘sanctions’ claim

GOP responding to ambiguous report that administration wants to punish Israel over East Jerusalem development

US President Barack Obama (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) prepare for a press session in the White House in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. (AP/Charles Dharapak)
US President Barack Obama (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) prepare for a press session in the White House in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

Republicans in Congress are asking the Obama administration to explain a murkily sourced claim that it is considering “sanctions” against Israel.

“Recent reports suggest that your administration has held classified meetings over the past several weeks to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions against Israel for its decision to construct homes in East Jerusalem,” said the letter sent Friday and signed by 48 members of the US House of Representatives led by Republican Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina. “Israel is one of our strongest allies, and the mere notion that the administration would unilaterally impose sanctions against Israel is not only unwise, but is extremely worrisome.”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) issued similar statements.

The appeals are apparently based on a December 4 story in Haaretz reporting that the Obama administration “is examining taking action against the construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, rather than making do with issuing denunciatory statements.”

The article, which is based on a claim from an anonymous Israeli official who said he was briefed by an American official, does not cite any “sanctions.” The Free Beacon, a conservative news site, picked up the Haaretz report and used “sanctions” repeatedly but did not explain why.

In Haaretz, the anonymous Israeli official describes discussions between State Department and White House officials that encompass the contemplation of actions ranging from withholding the traditional US veto on UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel to issuing “clearer instructions” about a ban in place on US funding for settlements.

The ban referred to is not clear. Obama’s predecessors up to President George W. Bush withheld from Israel a percentage of loan guarantees based on the rate of Israeli investment in settlement activities, but Obama has suspended the practice. The United States does not directly fund settlements, although it allows tax-exempt dollars to reach their charities.

White House and State Department officials have refused to comment on the story, noting its anonymous sourcing and a policy of generally not commenting on internal deliberations.

“I’m obviously not going to respond to unidentified anonymous sources’ reports about alleged internal deliberations,” Marie Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, said Friday.

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