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U.S. official says Netanyahu lacks 'guts' to settle with Palestinian

| Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, 8:15 a.m.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Likud party meeting at parliament in Jerusalem October 27, 2014.  An anonymous U.S. official's reported description of Netanyahu as a 'chickenshit,' or worthless coward, drew a sharp response on Wednesday from the Israeli leader - no stranger to acrimony with the Obama administration. Picture taken October 27, 2014. 
REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS)
REUTERS
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Likud party meeting at parliament in Jerusalem October 27, 2014. An anonymous U.S. official's reported description of Netanyahu as a 'chickenshit,' or worthless coward, drew a sharp response on Wednesday from the Israeli leader - no stranger to acrimony with the Obama administration. Picture taken October 27, 2014. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS)

The sometimes acrimonious relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government burst into public view Wednesday when an anonymous American official was quoted using a barnyard epithet to describe Israel's prime minister.

The White House and the State Department said it was inappropriate to denigrate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and emphasized the “unbreakable bond” between the two nations.

The slur was used by the unidentified official in an interview with the Atlantic magazine about strains between the United States and Israel over the building of settlements in the West Bank and negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

“The thing about Bibi is, he's a chicken(expletive),” the official said.

The crude word was used to describe what the official characterized as Netanyahu's lack of political courage in reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu's only interest, the official told the Atlantic, is in “protecting himself from political defeat. . . . He's got no guts.”

The Israeli leader treated the name calling as a badge of honor.

“Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally, as the assault on me comes only because I defend the state of Israel,” he said.

Relations have been strained for some time between President Obama and Netanyahu, U.S. and Israeli officials have said. The announcement of a new round of settlement construction has added to the strain.

The U.S. government issued a sharp condemnation of new building in Palestinian neighborhoods, saying it undermines Israel's stated interest in achieving peace with the Palestinians.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest insisted Wednesday that the remarks did not reflect the administration's view and were counterproductive.

“The prime minister and the president have forged an effective partnership, they consult closely and frequently and did so as recently as this month right here at the White House in the Oval Office,” Earnest said. “That close relationship does not mean that we paper over our differences. The fact is the United States has repeatedly made clear our view that settlement activity is illegitimate, and only serves to complicate efforts to achieve a two-state solution in the region.”

National Security Adviser Susan Rice maintained that the U.S.-Israel relationship “is not in crisis.” Rice was meeting on Thursday with her Israeli counterpart, Yossi Cohen, and senior delegation of Israeli officials for the US-Israel Consultative Group Meeting — a biannual event.

In Jerusalem, Netanyahu dismissed the comments and insisted he was “not prepared to make concessions that will endanger our state.”

“Our supreme interests, with security and the unity of Jerusalem first and foremost, are not among the top concerns of those anonymous elements that are attacking us and me personally,” he said.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans and some Democrats pounced on the anonymous comments and criticized the administration.

“When the president discusses Israel and Iran, it is sometimes hard to tell who he thinks is America's friend and who he thinks is America's enemy,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “Over the last several months, I have watched the administration insult ally after ally. I am tired of the administration's apology tour. The president sets the tone for his administration. He either condones the profanity and disrespect used by the most senior members of his administration, or he does not. It is time for him to get his house in order and tell the people that can't muster professionalism that it is time to move on.”

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