Washington (CNN) – Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. said Sunday that relations were good between the two longtime allies despite the appearance of a strain in recent weeks. And Ambassador Michael Oren repeatedly emphasized the need for the Palestinians to participate in peace talks in order to broker an accord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
A mini dust-up began between Israel and the U.S. last month when Israel announced plans to build housing on disputed land in East Jerusalem. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the announcement “insulting” in part because it was made while Vice President Biden was visiting Israel and the West Bank. Though both sides have maintained throughout that the bond between the two nations remains strong, relations once again appeared strained when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a recent visit to the White House where he was not greeted with the same fanfare that the Obama administration has rolled out for other world leaders.
Asked about Netanyahu’s low-key visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, White House senior adviser David Axelrod said last week on CNN’s State of the Union that “no snub was intended.” Axelrod characterized President Obama’s behind-closed-doors meeting with Netanyahu as “a working meeting.” While Axelrod echoed the familiar refrain that Israel remains a close ally of the United States, he also said that “sometimes, part of friendship is expressing yourself bluntly.”
Appearing Sunday on State of the Union, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., sought to explain Israel’s approach to Jerusalem.
“Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967,” Oren told CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, “This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu… that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv. And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they – an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C.
“That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.”
Oren added, “But we understand – we understand that Jerusalem is sensitive.”
Although Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, that is not recognized internationally, and Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the site of their future capital.
The Israeli diplomat also suggested that its policy on Jerusalem should not be a sticking point in renewed efforts by the U.S. to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem,” Oren said. “And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.
“We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.”
Notwithstanding the recent strains in the Israeli-U.S. relationship, the diplomat was, well, diplomatic in his characterization of the ties between the two allies.
“I literally need a one-word answer,” Crowley told Oren. “The state of U.S.- Israeli relations is…”
“Great,” he replied.