The United States government responded with anger to an English-language video message posted on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Facebook page Friday.
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In the video, Netanyahu hinted that the U.S. and other countries that support the uprooting of Israeli West Bank settlements as part of a deal establishing a Palestinian state were supporting the ethnic cleansing of Jews.
Netanyahu said that he rejected the claim heard in the West that the settlements constituted a barrier to peace, stressing that no one would dare seriously suggest that the two million Arab citizens of Israel are an obstacle to peace. Netanyahu charged that the Palestinian leadership was setting a precondition to negotiations according to which any Palestinian state would be free of Jews.
"There's a phrase for that: It's called ethnic cleansing," Netanyahu said, "And this demand is outrageous. It's even more outrageous that the world doesn't find this outrageous. Some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage."
The Obama administration viewed Netanyahu's message as aimed at the U.S. policy concerning the settlements. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau criticized Netanyahu's message in a press conference in Washington. "We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank," Trudeau said. "We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful."
Trudeau added that the Obama administration, as well as all previous American administrations and the entire international community, believe that the continued building of settlements is an obstacle to peace. She added that it was an uncontroversial fact that since the beginning of last year the building and planning of thousands of housing units in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was being promoted, that unauthorized Israeli outposts were being legitimized, that land in the West Bank was being expropriated for the use of Israelis only, and that the demolition of Palestinian homes was increasing. "As we have said many times, this raises real questions about Israel’s long term intentions in the West Bank," she said.
MK Tzipi Livni said on Saturday that Netanyahu's video undermines her diplomatic achievements vis-à-vis the settlements.
"With one video that was meant for Likud or Republican ears, Netanyahu destroys the achievements I made during the Sharon era – that the [settlement] blocs would be a part of Israel, that there would be no [Palestinian] right of return and that a separation fence be built," Livni said a political forum in Holon.
"After Netanyahu's video, the U.S. asserts that all the settlements, including the blocs, are an obstacle [to peace], while in the past" the blocs were recognized as part of Israel, she said.
"Netanyahu is leading us toward a single, non-Jewish and violent state," she added. "When the people of Israel wake up and want to separate from the Palestinians, it will be too late."