Obama administration officials on Monday denied reports that the U.S. was weighing sanctions on Israel over settlement expansions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, dismissing such speculation as “completely unfounded and without merit.”
Reports about President Obama mulling sanctions surfaced late last week in the Israeli press -- and quickly sparked concerns from lawmakers.
“This move only worsens perceptions that the administration treats our friends like enemies and our enemies like friends,” Illinois GOP Sen. Mark Kirk said on Friday.
Members of Congress also reportedly wrote the White House and Secretary of State John Kerry demanding answers, after a series of exchanges between reporters and administration officials failed to clarify the situation. The White House and State Department tried to address the questions on Monday.
“Reports that [we] might be contemplating sanctions against Israel are completely unfounded and without merit,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.
Still, Earnest suggested that Israeli and administration officials had a recent conversation about the issue and acknowledged that “settlement activity” continues to be a matter of disagreement.
“We've made our views known very clearly about our frustration with Israel,” he said. “It’s clearly in the interest of the Israeli people and the Palestinian people to try to resolve differences. … The settlement activity is counterproductive.”
His remarks followed State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki likewise saying reports about the administration contemplating sanctions were unfounded.