U.S.: We will continue to support Israel at UN
By Yuval Azoulay, Nadav Shragai, Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondents and Haaretz Service
Contrary to recent reports, the U.S. will maintain its support of Israel at the United Nations, a U.S. official told reporters on Monday.
State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood made the comments after the New York Times had reported earlier Monday that the Obama administration was considering a series of symbolic measures to force Israel to halt all construction in West Bank settlements.
While refusing to comment on the New York Times report, Wood said that both "the President and the Secretary have made clear that all the parties have responsibilities to fulfill to give Middle East peace efforts a chance to succeed. And U.S. and Israeli officials are in intensive discussions on how this can best be achieved."
"We've long worked to ensure that Israel is treated fairly at the United Nations. That will continue," Wood added.
The deputy spokesman maintained that "Israel is a close friend and ally, and we remain committed to its security," assuring that the commitment "will continue."
"I'm not going to comment on this New York Times report, but I think the President and Secretary have spoken very clearly to where we are with regard to the settlement question," he said.
Wood concluded by saying that "the United States lives up to its obligations. Right now, we are focused on trying to get both sides to adhere to the Roadmap so that we can move forward toward that two-state solution. And it's not going to be easy, as you know. And we're going to continue to try to do that."
The White House has yet to officially comment on the New York Times report.
According to the New York Times article, administration officials said that measures under discussion include dropping the United States' near uniform support of Israel at the United Nations and withholding its usual veto on resolutions critical of Israel.
Among other pressure points, Washington could review loan guarantees to Israel, diplomats said, or share and coordinate less on security matters, while the European Union could get tough on trade terms for produce from settlements.
"There are things that could get the attention of the Israeli public," the Times quoted a senior administration official as saying. Nevertheless, the official also said, "Israel is a critical United States ally, and no one in this administration expects that not to continue."
Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon, who is currently in New York, told Haaretz that the discussion did not represent an official Israeli stance and that the outcome of such debate was unclear as of yet.
Other Israeli officials confirmed that the U.S. has made no mention of any such plans for sanctions. The Obama administration has insisted on a total settlement freeze, but Jerusalem has balked at this demand claiming that existing communities in the West Bank deserve continued government attention.
Talk of possible sanctions prompted one senior Israeli official to complain: "The Netanyahu government is acting the same as its predecessors. The one who has changed policy is the American administration. The new administration is trying to get out of understandings achieved under the Bush administration."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday declared that Israel would not put life in West Bank settlements on hold, despite the United States demand that Israel completely halt construction in existing settlements.
"There are reasonable demands and demands that are not reasonable," Netanyahu told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
He was referring to a request made by U.S. President Barack Obama during a recent meeting in Washington with the premier. Netanyahu, however, did pledge that Israel would not build any new settlements.
The prime minister's comments came after Israeli security forces evacuated the northern West Bank outpost of Nachalat Yosef on Monday.
The site, near the settlement of Elon Moreh, contained three caravans and had been described by its residents as a farm, Army Radio reported.
Shomron Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said structures that were destroyed would be rebuilt.
"The nation of Israel elected a government that is supposed to care for the settlements and not destroy them, using hypocritical legalities as an excuse," Mesika said.
A senior defense official said earlier on Monday that the government does not intend to destroy any of the 26 outposts slated for evacuation. The official added that the evacuation will take place only after discussion with the settlers.
Monday's evacuation came after renewed calls by the United States for Israel to honor past commitments to remove the outposts. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, however, said last week that Israel was not bowing to U.S. pressure in evacuating the sites.
One of the caravans was moved into Elon Moreh during the evacuation, which took place without incident, according to Army Radio.
Last week, the Civil Administration released the full list of West Bank outposts where occupants of some buildings will be told they will be considered illegal residents if they do not leave the site within three days of the order.