Top Israeli diplomatic officials have replied to international pressure on Israel to cease construction in East Jerusalem and to apparent misattributions by news outlets regarding the state of U.S.-Israeli relations, according to CNN.com.
Their comments come after the Obama Administration expressed dismay at and pressured Israel to retract plans to build 1,600 new housing units in territory disputed with the Palestinians. News agencies then quoted Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., as saying that bilateral relations between Israel and its strongest Western ally were at a crisis low level.
International pressure on Israel "not reasonable"
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman defended his country's right to build new homes in East Jerusalem at a news conference, criticizing demands by the U.S. and other international actors for "[jumping] all over Israel" and "demanding things which are not possible."
"This demand to stop Jews from buying or building in East Jerusalem is not reasonable," the foreign minister said during his meeting with the European Union's foreign policy chief, the Baroness Catherine Ashton.
Lieberman went on to say that if Israel forbade Arabs from residing in primarily-Jewish West Jerusalem, it would then be condemned as an "apartheid state." He reiterated his Prime Minister's earlier statements that Jerusalem ought to be an open city for all and that Israel would not enforce deliberate neighborhood segregation.
Israeli ambassador denies calling U.S.-Israeli relations "lowest in 35 years"
Michael Oren, the country's ambassador to the U.S., refuted claims made in various news outlets that he spoke of bilateral relations as being in "a state of crisis."
"I was flagrantly misquoted about remarks I made in a confidential briefing this past Saturday," Oren said, according to CNN.com. "Recent events do not -- I repeat -- do not represent the lowest point in the relations between Israel and the United States."
Oren admitted that the two countries have different views on various major issues, but that discussions have been conducted in an amicable atmosphere between long-time allies. He expressed confidence that "we will overcome these differences shortly."
Israeli leaders appreciative of and confident in U.S.-Israeli friendship
President Shimon Peres also remarked on the strong historic friendship between Israel and the U.S., calling the U.S. "a true friend" of Israel and said he was encouraging officials on both sides to "reach an understanding" and return relations "to their regular, positive state."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement he was heartened by remarks made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the friendly bond between the two countries.
Israel has done its part to restart peace talks, Prime Minister says, but Palestinians have not
Netanyahu also said his government was committed to finding a solution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the Arab states, and has already taken positive steps to prove it.
He said Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks have been dismantled in two areas of the West Bank that Israel calls Samaria and Judea; new settlement construction has also been halted in said areas for 10 months.
The Palestinians were to blame fore the stalls and delays in the peace process, according to Netanyahu, by creating preconditions just to resume negotiations. He accused the Palestinians of using the delays to deligitimize and ostracize Israel on the international stage.
Still, the U.S. hopes to start its proximity talks soon; the Israeli settlement plans and Palestinian outrage have contributed to its delay. The mediator accepted by both sides, U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell, has asked both sides to refrain from any provocations that might further endanger this latest attempt to resume diplomacy.