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The Obama administration is refusing to discuss reports that emerged early Thursday claiming that the White House is considering imposing sanctions on Israel for continuing construction on Jewish homes in Jerusalem.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dodged several questions on Thursday when confronted with reports that the administration had held secret internal meetings to discuss taking action against Israel for its ongoing building in East Jerusalem.
The classified meetings were reportedly held several weeks ago and included officials from both the State Department and White House, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, which first reported on the meetings.
The possibility of sanctioning Israel for its ongoing construction sends a signal that the Obama administration is willing to go further in its denunciations of Israel than any previous White House.
At the same time, the White House is vigorously pushing Congress against passing new sanctions on Iran.
When asked to address the reports Thursday afternoon, Harf declined to take a stance.
“I’m obviously not going to comment one way or another on reported internal deliberations,” she said. “We’ve made clear our position on settlement activity publicly and that hasn’t changed.”
When pressed to address whether the White House has reached a point at which it believes its harsh rhetoric against Israel is not enough, Harf again demurred, stating that she would not “address hypotheticals.”
A White House National Security Council (NSC) official also would not comment on the report when contacted Thursday by the Washington Free Beacon.
News of the supposed meeting leaked to the press though Israeli officials who were apparently apprised of the discussion.
Senior Israeli officials told Haaretz “that White House officials held a classified discussion a few weeks ago about the possibility of taking active measures against the settlements,” according to the report.
The discussion about levying sanctions on Israel reportedly began after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s October meeting at the White House and the subsequent battle between Washington and Jerusalem over settlement construction.
The thought of the White House leveling sanctions on Israel as it works to lessen those already imposed on Iran prompted consternation on Capitol Hill and throughout the pro-Israel world.
One senior congressional aide who works on the issue of Israel expressed shock that a White House could even discuss such action.
“If these reports are true, this would mark a new era of unprecedented hostility from the White House against our strongest ally in the Middle East,” the source said. “It's impossible not to notice the irony of the administration mulling sanctions on Israel while threatening to veto new sanctions against Iran.”
The aide added: “The president should be forewarned that taking such action against Israel would yield tremendous pushback from Congress.”
Those in the pro-Israel world expressed a similar view when reached for comment.
“Even this administration, which has been historically hostile to our Israeli allies, even as they worked overtime to bomb the enemies of Iranian proxies across the Middle East, could not possibly be so aggressively committed to undermining our alliances as to levy sanctions against Israel at the same time they’re lifting them on Iran,” said one senior official with a pro-Israel organization who agreed to speak only on background.
Others took a more critical view.
“The Obama administration is against sanctions on Iran, but for them on Israel,” said Noah Pollak, executive director of the pro-Israel organization Emergency Committee for Israel. “Is [White House deputy national security adviser] Ben Rhodes wearing a green headband to work these days?”