By Jake Sherman, POLITICO
The mayor of Jerusalem swept into Washington this week, meeting with members of Congress while calling the Obama administrationâ€™s request to freeze construction in East Jerusalem â€œillegal,â€ a â€œshockâ€ and surprising.
Nir Barkat, who runs Israelâ€™s largest city, sat alongside House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, the only Jewish Republican lawmaker, who said his colleagues in Congress were â€œtaken abackâ€ at the White Houseâ€™s stance on construction.
Yet while Barkat and Cantor were taking swipes at President Barack Obamaâ€™s Israel policy, U.S. and Israeli diplomats appeared to be keeping an armâ€™s length from the mayor. A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy said that all questions about Barkatâ€™s visit should be referred to his spokesman. â€œThe mayor of Jerusalem is an independently elected official on a visit that he arranged,â€ the spokesman said.
The Israeli news site Ynetnews, citing unnamed officials, reported that Barkat was turned down in his request to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell. An administration official told POLITICOÂ no request was made to meet with Clinton. Mitchell was out of town, the official said, but hisÂ deputy was â€œhappy to meet with [Barkat] but was turned down.â€ Barkat spokesman Stephan Miller denied that, saying, â€œNo, I didnâ€™t even know he had a deputy.â€
Asked whether Barkat should be making foreign policy rounds, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said: â€œHeâ€™s the mayor of Jerusalem. I donâ€™t think so.â€
After WaxmanÂ met withÂ Barkat, he clarified his statement: â€œBut he is a spokesman for Jerusalem, and I think itâ€™s important to hear his views on how things were viewed in the city.â€ Waxman said that construction in East Jerusalem is dealt with by the city â€” Barkatâ€™s comments about legality were in reference to Israeli laws.
On a two-day visit to the Capitol, Barkat, considered to have eyes on higher office, met with congressional leaders, at times unfurling maps of Jerusalem and showing why a freeze in construction would be bad for all residents of the city. He conveyed to lawmakers how the administrationâ€™s request to freeze construction in beleaguered areas of East Jerusalem was taken. Citizens were surprised, he said, with the Obama administrationâ€™s position. He was surprised that the administration would hint to Israelis that they should discriminate â€œby race, color or religion,â€ a reference to asking Israelis to stop building in East Jerusalem.
Republicans and Democrats had different interpretations of the visit.
Republicans used it as an opportunity to showcase their support for Israel and criticize the Obama administration for confusing its priorities and being soft on the country.
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