First on CNN: House Democrats to dine with Israeli ambassador

tsr intv ron dermer blitzer u.s. israeli tensions_00001110

Washington (CNN)A small group of House Democrats will meet with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer over dinner Monday night in the hopes of starting to repair a damaged relationship, Rep. Steve Israel told CNN on Monday.

But just how challenging that task will be was crystal clear Monday afternoon when White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the administration would not overlook Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's flip-flop on Palestinian statehood last week.
McDonough told a friendly crowd during a conference held by the pro-Palestine Jewish advocacy group J-Street that a two-state solution is "the best way to guard Israel's long-term security," and that's why Netanyahu's declaration that there would be no Palestinian state while he was prime minister — which he later disavowed — was "very troubling."
"After the election, the prime minister said that he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and in the international community such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution," McDonough said. "We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made."
    McDonough repeatedly pledged strong U.S. support for Israel, promising to "continue to ensure Israel's qualitative military edge" and echoing President Barack Obama's proclamation that the U.S. "has Israel's back."
    But his remarks underscore just how fraught relations between the two nations have become in the wake of Netanyahu's speech to Congress earlier this month, against the urging of the White House and a number of congressional Democrats, who saw it as an affront to the President.
    Following his election win last week, Obama told Netanyahu that he would "reassess" U.S. support for Israel. Obama was reportedly particularly offended by Netanyahu's comments that Arab Israelis were coming out to vote in "droves," which critics said had racial undertones.
    Netanyahu apologized for those comments in a Facebook post on Monday.
    "I know that my comments last week offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli Arab community," Netanyahu said, according to a translation provided by his party, Likud. "This was never my intent. I apologize for this."
    Congressional Democrats, it seems, are looking to mend fences as well. Israel told CNN that he helped arrange the dinner with Dermer, which will take place at the Israeli ambassador's residence, in hopes of "tamping down on the drama" between Democrats and the Israeli prime minister's government.