Israel's U.S. envoy: 'No one can force us to make peace'
Any outside attempt to impose a deal would be like 'forcing somebody to fall in love', says ambassador.
Outsiders cannot force peace on the Middle East and any final settlement will have to be initiated by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, Israel's Washington envoy said on Saturday.
In an interview with U.S. television station PBS, Ambassador Michael Oren said that any attempt by the United States to impose a peace deal would be like "forcing somebody to fall in love".
Asked if Israel wanted the Washington to present its own peace plan, Oren said:
"No. I think peace has to be made between two people sitting opposite a table. America can help facilitate that interaction. But at the end of the day, no one can force parties in any conflict in the world to make peace. It's like forcing somebody to fall in love. We have to sit down and thresh it out between us."
Oren added: "If we arrive at points where we can't agree, we can't close the gap between us, then we - both the Israelis and the Palestinians as well - are willing to look at various bridging formulas."
"But America is not in a position where it's going to come in and impose a plan. I don't think that's to anybody's benefit. And I'm sure parties on all sides of this conflict understand that."
Relations between the United States and Israel have suffered a turbulent fortnight after President Barack Obama's administration reacted angrily to news of Israeli plans to expand Jewish housing beyond the Green Line in east Jerusalem, announced during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the move, which frustrated American plans to mediate renewed talks betweem Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and the Palestinians, as an "insult".
But Oren said that Netanyahu had no advanced warning of the decision and was "blindsided" by the resulting high profile row between the allies.
Asked if Netanyahu knew of the building plans, Oren said:
"Categorically no. I was with him. I was with the vice president. We were blindsided by it. It was made by a mid-level bureaucrat in the interior ministry. It wasn't made by a senior official."
Low-level officials had done no more than to announce an interim stage of a planning program that was would take several years to complete, Oren said.
"We were shocked. We were shocked. We were dismayed," he said. "We immediately apologized to the vice president and his staff. We discussed with the vice president and his staff ways that we could ameliorate the situation. And we worked very hard to do that."
The diplomatic storm peaked on Thursday when Clinton rebuked Netanyahu during a 43-minute telephone call, reportedly demanding that Israel revoke its recent building decision, roll back plans for new Jewish homes and make goodwill gestures such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and lifting some West Bank roadblocks.
Senior U.S. officials in Washington said on Saturday that Netanyahu had put in writing pledges he made to Clinton during their conversation.