“The U.S. view has long been, under multiple administrations, that settlement activity is illegitimate and it’s counterproductive to the goal of a two-state solution,” she told the Washington Ideas Forum.
“Obviously this Israeli government has taken a different view and when such announcements are made that are significant in their consequence, we’re compelled to comment on them – but that’s not a reflection of the health of the larger bilateral relationship, which is quite strong.”
Although Rice referred in this context to “this Israeli government,” governments across the Israeli political spectrum have for decades supported building in disputed areas of Jerusalem – the issue at the center of the current bilateral tensions.
The U.S., like the international community at large, does not distinguish between housing built in contested parts of Jerusalem and in other areas claimed by the Palestinians, labeling it all as illegitimate.
Israel’s long-held position has been that the city is its undivided capital and hence it has the right to build anywhere. It rejects the notion that either new or long-established suburbs in east, north and south Jerusalem constitute settlements.
“Just as the French build in Paris and the British build in London, Israelis build in Jerusalem,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday. “We will continue to build in Jerusalem.”
After an article was published in The Atlantic characterizing the bilateral relationship as being in crisis and quoting an unnamed administration official describing Netanyahu in derisive terms, the Israeli leader dismissed the criticism, and doubled down on Jerusalem.
“Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally,” he said Wednesday.
Rice rejected the view that the relationship is in trouble.
“The relationship is not in crisis,” she told the forum. “The relationship is actually fundamentally stronger in many respects than it’s ever been.”
“We have the greatest and strongest security cooperation between the United States and Israel that has ever occurred, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has heralded that on many occasions.”
Rice described the relationship between Netanyahu and President Obama as “constructive and effective,” noting the two had met with each other more often than the president has with any other foreign leader.
A war launched by Arab states against the newly-declared State of Israel in 1948 ended with Jerusalem divided between Israeli and Jordanian control. During the Six Day War 19 years later the city was reunited under Israel, and since then the city’s neighborhoods have grown under governments on the left and right.
The international community does not recognize Israel’s claims to Jerusalem, and the Palestinians want at least some of the city as the capital of a future independent state.
The U.S. Congress in 1995 passed a law stating that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”
Every president since then has exercised a recurring national security waiver delaying that move, and the embassy remains in Tel Aviv.