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Israel summons U.S. envoy over settlement dispute

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan
/ Source: Reuters

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

Israel summoned one of its diplomats from the United States on Sunday after he circulated a memorandum accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government of doing "strategic damage" to ties with Washington.

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said a disciplinary measure was being taken with the Israeli consul in Boston, Nadav Tamir, after publication last week of his "very regrettable" memorandum.

Tamir's criticism appeared in a brief intended for internal circulation and was leaked in a Thursday newscast by Israel's Channel 10 television, which quoted him as saying differences with Washington over Jewish settlements had hurt relations.

The settlement issue has opened a rift between Israel and its main ally, with Netanyahu resisting President Barack Obama's calls to freeze the expansion of enclaves Israel has built in territory it captured in a 1967 war.

Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that peace negotiations, stalled since December, cannot resume until settlement activity ceases in the occupied West Bank.

Tamir wrote that Israel's handling of the dispute was "doing strategic damage" to its ties with Washington and had given Israel a negative opinion rating in the United States, similar to those of Iran and North Korea.

Ayalon said any friction with Washington had declined in the past several months, with frequent contacts between Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been holding talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume negotiations.

Taking the rare step of dressing down a diplomat publicly, Ayalon told Army Radio no decision had been made as to whether Tamir should be dismissed.

Ayalon said Tamir's document was "not the work of a professional," contained more opinion than data. He called Boston, a liberal bastion, a "bubble," unrepresentative of other U.S. regions where Ayalon insisted support for Israel had grown.

NETANYAHU: WE WON'T REPEAT GAZA ERROR

Netanyahu, who has said he wouldn't build additional settlements but wants to continue construction in existing enclaves to accommodate what he calls natural growth, said Sunday he would not remove any settlements before a peace deal.

Remarking on the fourth anniversary since a Gaza pullout when Israel removed some 9,000 Jewish settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, Netanyahu told cabinet ministers "we will not repeat this mistake."

Netanyahu said Israel's withdrawal from coastal Gaza had not brought about peace and led ultimately to Iranian-backed Hamas Islamists who reject Israel's existence, to seize control.

Israel has kept up an economic blockade of the coastal territory since shortly after the withdrawal, following Hamas' rise to power after a 2006 election. Palestinians say the policy creates hardship for many of the 1.5 million who live in Gaza.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the settlements built in occupied territory that is home to some 3 million Palestinians. The World Court has ruled that the settlements are illegal. Israel disputes this.