Clinton slams Israel on housing announcement

Secretary of State calls Netanyahu and questions Israel's commitment to peace negotiations

Published March 12, 2010 7:09PM (EST)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday delivered a stinging rebuke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his government's announcement this week of new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem.

The State Department said Clinton spoke to Netanyahu by phone to express U.S. frustration with Tuesday's announcement that cast a pall over a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden. A State spokesman said the Israeli move has endangered indirect peace talks with the Palestinians that the Obama administration had announced just a day earlier.

Clinton called "to make clear that the United States considered the announcement to be a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president's trip," department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.

The harsh criticism of America's closest Mideast ally and questions about its commitment to the U.S.-Israeli relationship followed equally blunt condemnation of the housing announcement from the White House and Biden himself.

It also comes ahead of a trip to the region by U.S. Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell and a meeting in Moscow next week of senior officials from the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers.

The Israeli announcement took the U.S. by surprise and enraged Palestinians and Arab states, jeopardizing indirect peace talks Mitchell is to mediate

"The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security and she made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process," he said.

Crowley stressed that the United States strongly objected to both the content and timing of the announcement and said Clinton had "reinforced that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America's interests."

By Matthew Lee

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Hillary Rodham Clinton Israel Middle East White House