The United States will continue to oppose Israeli settlement activity even after US President Barack Obama leaves office in two years, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.
“Our opposition – this Administration’s opposition to settlements is fully consistent with the policies of administrations for decades, including of both parties. So the notion that that would change is not borne out by history,” Psaki said.
She spoke in response to a conversation Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had
with male high school pupils in the Makor Haim Yeshiva in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank on Tuesday.
Ya’alon told the pupils that the Obama Administration had pressured Israel to halt the advancement of West Bank settlement plans. He reassured them however, that the Obama administration was temporary and would soon be over, thereby indicating that future US governments could be more favorable to Israel on this issue.
“I want to advance plans [for settlement construction] and to build more,” he told the students in response to a question on reports of a construction freeze in West Bank settlements.
“But this subject provokes a [negative] response, first from the Americans, and after that there are warnings from other sources,” he continued. “So we are very, very careful not to pull on this rope too much.”
He expressed hope that this situation would be temporary.
“At present there is a certain administration in Washington, and it is the US that is setting the tone. But this administration won’t be [in power] forever,” Yaalon said.
His meeting with the pupils was off the record, but it was recorded and brief segments of it were played on Army Radio on Wednesday morning.
Journalists in Washington then quizzed Psaki about his statements.
A reporter said to Psaki, “He was quoted as saying the Obama Administration is not going to last forever, which is – seems to be a statement of fact.”
She responded, “That is correct. It will be done in two years.”
The reporter said, “But you’re predicting that whatever – whoever the next president is, his or her administration is not going to change the US position on settlements.”
US policy on settlement activity has been consistent for two decades through both Republican and Democratic administrations, she said.
The reporter responded, “So in other words, you would tell Defense Minister Ya’alon you’re stuck with US opposition to settlements even beyond the Obama Administration? Is that correct?”
“I would say our position, our policy has been consistent for quite some time,” Psaki said.
“But you usually, though, don’t pull out the crystal ball and predict the future,” the reporter said.
“Fair enough,” Psaki said.
“This is an issue, though, that you think that is bipartisan enough that it will survive,” the reporter said.
“It has been for some time now,” Psaki reassured the journalist.
Tuesday’s talk was not the first time Ya’alon had been heard making negative comments about the United States in an off-the-record conversation.
In January, he issued an apology to Washington for disparaging remarks he made in a private conversation, in which he called US Secretary of State John Kerry “messianic” and “obsessive.”
When the defense minister visited the US in October, he held few high-level meetings. The Israeli media reported that he had been snubbed by Kerry, US Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
At the time, Ya’alon denied the media allegations and said that his visit was never meant to be a high-level trip.
In response to Wednesday’s Army Radio report, sources close to Ya’alon said the defense minister believed that the US was Israel’s greatest friend and one on which it relied strategically.
He also believes that America, and this administration in particular, has contributed to Israel’s security, the sources said.
“The scope and the depth of the strategic cooperation between them is unprecedented,” they stated.
But they noted that there were a number of disagreements between Israel and the US on several issues.
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