Barak Ravid
July 22, 2008 - 5:06pm

Senior officials in the U.S. State Department, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have repeatedly complained to Israel recently over relatively minor Palestinian issues that it would have ignored until a few months ago, Israeli officials say.

Complaints about settlement construction or army operations that kill Palestinian civilians have always been the norm. But Israeli officials are worried by the State Department's new tendency to intervene in a much broader range of issues.

One such case occurred two weeks ago, when the daughter of Palestinian parliamentarian Hanan Ashrawi sought to visit Israel. At one time, she had lived in East Jerusalem and had permanent resident status, but after several years of living in the United States, her residency had lapsed.

She therefore asked the State Department to intervene, which resulted in Israel giving her a laissez-passer to come here and arrange her status. However, she was warned at Ben-Gurion Airport that she had two weeks to do so.

Via her mother, a personal friend of Rice, the younger Ashrawi complained to the State Department again over this dictum. Within minutes, Israeli sources said, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch had phoned senior Israeli officials to demand they intervene. The surprised Israelis responded that these procedures are required by law.

Another case was Washington's demand that 10 Gazan Fulbright scholars be allowed to enter Israel for visa interviews at the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem. However, Israel refused, saying they had been blacklisted for security reasons.

Rice personally intervened. In addition, an Israeli official said, the consulate leaked the story to the New York Times to embarrass Israel.

Israel suggested that the interviews be conducted at the Erez border crossing with Gaza, and Washington eventually agreed. Now, the students are waiting for the consulate to approve their visas.

Yet another case involved an eviction order issued to an East Jerusalem family over nonpayment of rent. Officials from the U.S. consulate visited the family and sent a telegram to Washington, and the State Department demanded that Israel prevent the eviction. The stunned Israelis responded that the eviction had been upheld by the High Court of Justice. Moreover, they said, this was an internal affair.

A senior Israeli official said that the person behind this growing American criticism is the U.S. consul in Jerusalem, Jacob Wallace. "Every week, he receives dozens of complaints from Palestinians and transfers them to Washington without examination," the official said. "He's really inflaming the atmosphere, causing public relations damage to Israel and even may damage our relations with the U.S."

An embassy spokesman responded that the embassy considers its relationship with the Foreign Ministry "excellent."


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