President Barack Obama’s administration is reportedly considering putting some muscle behind its opposition to new settlement construction by Israelis in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. According to reports, the administration is weighing the possibility of imposing sanctions on the Israeli government.
“Senior Israeli officials said that White House officials held a classified discussion a few weeks ago about the possibility of taking active measures against the settlements,” Haaretz reported on Thursday.
When confronted with this rumor, administration officials did not deny it. “A few senior American officials approached by Haaretz did not deny this, but refused to disclose more details,” Haaretz continued. “National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan refused to comment.”
A discussion on such a sensitive and politically-loaded issue in the White House is extremely irregular and shows to what extent relations between the Obama administration and Netanyahu government have deteriorated. In recent years European states have imposed increasing sanctions against the construction in the settlements, while the United States has made do with denunciations.
An Israeli official who was briefed by the Americans on the issue said the administration started discussing it following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last meeting in the White House in early October and the public confrontation over the settlements that occurred later.
On Friday, spokespeople with both the White House and the State Department refused to comment on the rumor that the administration was considering sanctions on Israel.
“I’m not going to talk about any internal deliberations,” White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest said, as reported in The Hill .
While Earnest reaffirmed the strong bond between the two nations, he called the settlements “illegitimate” and said the U.S. was deeply concerned about the settlement activity.
But he refused to go any further, saying he was “not willing to talk about” backroom discussions.
On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf also refused to answer questions about the internal conversations at the White House and Foggy Bottom.
It is unclear if the administration’s outlook on this issue has changed in the wake of the dissolution of Netanyahu’s Cabinet, which indicates that new national elections will be forthcoming. But members of Congress are not waiting around to learn if the administration’s thinking has evolved on the prospect of sanctioning Israel. According to The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo, America’s elected representatives have warned Obama that sanctions against Israel will not be tolerated.
We urge you and your administration to clarify these reports immediately,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) and nearly 50 other House lawmakers wrote Friday afternoon, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
“Israel is one of our strongest allies, and the mere notion that the administration would unilaterally impose sanctions against Israel is not only unwise, but is extremely worrisome,” they state. “Such reports send a clear message to our friends and enemies alike that such alliances with the United States government can no longer be unquestionably trusted.”
“At a time when you have requested an additional seven months to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, any attempts to undermine the U.S.’s support of Israel will only further diminish the administration’s ability to get congressional support for any potential agreement with Iran,” the lawmakers wrote.
In the wake of the president’s decision to unilaterally create legal status for millions of illegal immigrants via executive order, it is hard to think of a way in which Obama could further alienate congressional Republicans. Seeking to impose sanctions on Israel may just be the way to do it.