White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday he is aware of news reports that the United States is considering sanctions against Israel, but wouldn’t say if they are true.
Fox News reporter Ed Henry asked Earnest about the reports and said, “I wondered if you could say true or false.”
Earnest was not that direct.
“I’ve been informed of some of these reports. What I can tell you is that I’m not going to talk about any internal deliberations inside the administration and certainly not inside the White House,” Earnest said. “But I will say something I have said many times before, which is that Israel is a close and strategic partner of the United States of America. I don’t need to remind you of the strong and unshakable bonds that exist between the United States and Israel, and the United States exceedingly strong commitment to the security of the nation of Israel.”
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz first reported that the Obama administration was considering sanctions against Israel over settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The administration has previously criticized Israel for the settlements, asserting it could harm the peace negotiations.
“We’ve ... been crystal-clear about our view of settlement activity,” Earnest added. “That view has not changed. We believe that the settlements are illegitimate and we have deep concerns about highly contentious planning and construction activity that the Israeli government is pursuing in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. We believe those kind of activities are counterproductive. We made those views clear public. We made those views clear in private.”
Henry followed: “So clearly, you are not denying that sanctions are on the table against even an ally.”
Earnest respond: “I’m very clearly not denying that we have strong concerns about some of the activity that is underway in Israel. It has not and will not affect the United States' strong commitment to the national security of the nation of Israel.”
Pressed again, Earnest refused to comment further.
Haaretz reported that senior Israeli officials said senior White House officials "held a classified discussion a few weeks ago about the possibility of taking active measures against the settlements." None of the officials in the article were named.
This week, the House voted unanimously for the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 to provide $200 million worth of military equipment, expand defense and security, energy, research and development, business, water management and academic cooperation. The Senate has already approved the bill.