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03-18-2010, 04:40 PM
Obama optimistic over U.S.-Israel relations



WASHINGTON, (Xinhua): President Barack Obama on Wednesday convinced the Israelis that the U.S.-Israel relations would not be undermined by their disagreement over Jewish settlement activities.

"Israel's one of our closest allies, and we and the Israeli people have a special bond that's not going to go away," Obama said in an interview with the Fox News, adding the United States remains its commitment to Israel.

There was "no crisis" in the U.S.-Israel relations, said Obama, referring to the tension between the two countries over Israel's decision on building more homes in East Jerusalem.

The Obama administration has been very angry over the Israeli government's approval of 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem last week when Vice President Joe Biden was pushing both Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks.

Both Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rarely have issued condemnation on Israel for the move, which was described by Clinton as "a deeply negative signal" about Israel's approach to relations with Washington.

In Wednesday's interview, President Obama said that Israel's settlement activities are not helpful for pushing peace process, but saying "friends are going to disagree sometimes."

The Obama administration has been exerting pressure on the Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to resume the talks in order that the two sides could reach a permanent peace agreement that leads to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within two years.

The talks were stalled in December 2008 when Israel launched a massive military campaign against the Islamic Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip.

PNA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas insists that the talks would not be resumed until the Israeli government totally freezes the Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, while the Israeli side vows to ensure the "natural growth" of the Jewish settlements.

At least 450,000 Israelis live in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

After Israel's announcement to build more homes in East Jerusalem, the PNA decided to suspend the indirect talks with Israel, which was brokered by U.S. special envoy George Mitchell following tough shuttle mediation between Israel and the Palestinians.