Israel must end its 50-year occupation of Palestine, the White House says – Jon Stone/The Independent
US-Israel relations have noticeably cooled in recent weeks
Israel must end its 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, Barack Obama’s White House has said.
In a speech on Monday, the White House chief of staff Denis McDonough called into question the Israeli government’s commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.
“Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he told a meeting of liberal American pro-Israel lobbyists, J-Street. “An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.” Mr McDonough, the most senior official in the US president’s team, was highly critical of earlier comments made Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which the country’s leader indicated he was not interested in working towards Palestinian sovereignty.
The White House comments are the latest salvo from the United States government in what appears to be a noticeable cooling of relations between the two countries.
“After the election, the prime minister said that he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and in the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution, as did his suggestion that the construction of settlements has a strategic purpose of dividing Palestinian communities and his claim that conditions in the larger Middle East must be more stable before a Palestinian state can be established,” the chief of staff said.
“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.”
The latest statement appears to be a rejection of an attempted about-face by the Israeli prime minister, who attempted to downplay his earlier comments after US criticism.
The United States has historically shielded Israel from criticism at the UN security council, where it holds a veto.
Mr Netanyahu made his controversial comments during an election campaign in which he was widely thought to have tacked right-wards for strategic reasons.
“Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks to the radical Islam against Israel,” he told Israeli news site NRG.
He accused Israelis who believed otherwise of “sticking their head in the sand, time and time again”.
After Mr Netanyahu’s re-election the United States said it would “reassess” its relationship with Israel.
The Israeli leader also recently angered White House officials by accepting an unconventional invitation to address the US Congress by Mr Obama’s political opponents.
Despite its status as a developed country, Israel receives around $3bn of US aid a year, most of which is directed to military spending. $3bn equates to over 10% of the Israel’s defence budget.
The British government, also traditionally an ally of Israel, has also criticised the country in recent days, focusing on the conduct of its settler community.
A recent book by the last Labour government’s director of communications Alastair Campbell alleged that Foreign Office officials have long believed Mr Netanyahu is an “armour-plated bullshitter”.
Israel’s occupation is illegal under international law and the United Nations has repeatedly told the country’s government to vacate Palestinian territory.
Human rights groups have also criticised settlements set up by Israelis in Palestinian territory, which Amnesty International says are responsible for “a myriad of human rights violations”.