WASHINGTON – A senior White House official called American Jewish leaders Friday to reassure them amid a week-long dispute between the US and Israel and told them that a resolution to the episode was close, according to several sources.
During an off-record conference call, Dan Shapiro, the US National Security Council’s top Middle East adviser, said that the Obama administration had not chosen to put the issue of Jerusalem on the agenda just as indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks were set to start, but that the issue was “forced” onto the agenda by the announcement of new building in east Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit, call participants said.
Shapiro stressed that Jerusalem was a final-status issue to be resolved between the parties, and that the US had no interest in raising it at this time, those on the call reported. Shapiro indicated that the US has accepted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s explanations and apologies.
At the time the approval for new homes in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood was announced, the prime minister told Biden that he had not been privy to the decision, made by the Shas-controlled Interior Ministry, and Netanyahu later expressed regret about the timing.
Since Netanyahu’s own visit with US President Barack Obama in Washington last week, his office has been working to hammer out a series of gestures to restart the since-stalled indirect talks per the request of Obama. Shapiro, according to those on the call, said such a package was close to being concluded.
Shapiro added that he thought proximity talks would start soon, as he expected the Arab League to uphold its position supporting such negotiations despite its criticism over the east Jerusalem housing. “We will have a hard time understanding” any decision to change course from the Arab League, participants heard him say.
Those on the call also said he spent a considerable amount of time pushing back against media reports calling the recent tensions a crisis or characterizing Netanyahu’s White House visit – conducted under a media blackout without even an official photograph released – as a snub.
He faulted the “fog” of press reports for portraying the meeting as negative, which he pointed out was arranged hastily after the president canceled an overseas trip to work on health care legislation and made for the fourth visit of Obama with Netanyahu in the US, the most of any foreign leader.
Shapiro also referred to the media’s bias toward the more “sexy” news story of US criticism of Israel over American criticism of the Palestinians to claim that the Obama administration has been equally demanding of both sides.
One caller later asked that he produce a compendium detailing American censure of the Palestinian Authority alongside Israel to provide documentation to the wider Jewish community, which has been critical of the US administration for coming down more heavily on Israel than on the PA.
The National Security Council hand also noted that Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama dealt significantly with Iran, on which he said there is close coordination between the two countries and that there is no foreign policy issue the US is working harder on, according to call participants.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for confirmation and comment on Friday’s call.
“They wanted to do something to cool everything down a little bit,” said one participant who, like all those who spoke to The Jerusalem Post, required anonymity in talking about the off-the-record call. “Earlier would have been better, but it made good sense to do it now.”
He added, “Any communication helps. It doesn’t solve everything, but every communication helps.”
Yet he questioned the White House take on the recent tensions. “They created the storm. Why are they surprised?”
Another participant also expressed skepticism at what he heard,
particularly the effort to blame the media for blowing things out of
“It wasn’t incredibly reassuring, but it was unclear whether the White
House was downplaying the crisis because they erroneously think there
isn’t a crisis, or they’re downplaying the crisis as means of ending
the crisis,” he said. “If it’s the latter it’s a positive thing, but if
they really are clueless and have their heads in the sand, that’s bad.”
One Jewish official on the call, though, expressed more criticism at
his colleagues than at the White House, taking them to task for not
speaking more forcefully during the call against what had happened.
“They didn’t challenge the administration on this,” he said. “It was very disappointing, really very disappointing.”