Burton vs. Rice on Israel

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At a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee today Indiana Republican Dan Burton got steamed at UN Amb. Susan Rice for language in her Feb. 19 statement accompanying a US veto of a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. Burton called Rice’s statement a “slap in the face” of Israel. After vetoing the resolution Rice said, ‘We reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity’ and ‘Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.’

‘All you did was criticize Israel,’ Burton said today. Rice responded, ‘I object strenuously to your mischaracterization of my statement.’

Video of the exchange is here.

On substance Burton’s going against years of precedent. U.S. policy has consistently opposed Israeli settlement activity, including under George W. Bush and other Republican predecessors, even as it protected Israel from censure at the UN. The Obama administration effectively maintained that balance.

But Burton did pick up on a tonal shift. Rice’s language was strong and it came after days of U.S. bluffing that it might not veto the resolution. The real significance of the tonal toughness, though, is it indicates the administration’s frustration with the peace process. The rocky relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, which I wrote about here, appears to be in the deep freeze now. And State and White House officials morbidly joke that the one thing they don’t have to worry about in the short term with the unrest in the middle east is damage to the peace process… because it’s completely moribund.