Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Obama pressure on Israel draws concerns in U.S.

Wed Jun 3, 2009 4:53pm EDT

By Susan Cornwell and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, June 3 (Reuters) - As President Barack Obama courts Muslims in the Middle East, his pressure on Israel to halt Jewish settlement activity in occupied territory is starting to raise some concerns at home.

Some U.S. lawmakers are urging Obama to use caution in pressuring Israel, underscoring the political difficulty facing Obama as he tries to develop a more evenhanded policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel has strong supporters in the U.S. Congress, where Obama's fellow Democrats hold a majority and where most lawmakers are traditionally protective of the strongest U.S. ally in the Middle East, providing the Jewish state about $2.5 billion a year in aid.

Both political parties are raising doubts about Obama's pressure on Israel even as the president tours the Middle East, where he plans to address the Muslim world in Cairo on Thursday.

Before he left, Obama told National Public Radio that "a freeze on settlements, including natural growth, is part of (Israel's) obligations" -- a message he conveyed directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month.

Referring to Obama's demands for a freeze on settlements in the West Bank, Representative Anthony Weiner said, "I think the president went beyond where I think it was appropriate for us to go in dealing with another democracy."


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