A senior Israeli diplomat has warned that the Jewish state’s relationship with the United States has suffered a “tectonic rift”.
The sobering assessment comes a week before Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, meets President Barack Obama at the White House.
There had been hope the two could lay to rest a row that erupted between the two allies in March but the new comments have raised fears of long-term damage.
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, told foreign ministry colleagues at a private briefing in Jerusalem that they were facing a long and potentially irrevocable estrangement.
Sources said Mr Oren told the meeting: “There is no crisis in Israel-US relations because in a crisis there are ups and downs. [Instead] relations are in a state of tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart.”
Mr Oren’s privately-voiced pessimism stands in stark contrast to public declarations in both Jerusalem and Washington that differences between the two states amount to nothing more than “disagreements” between allies.
The ambassador told the Jerusalem Post newspaper last week that US-Israel ties were stronger than many observers believed.
Unlike his previous encounter with Mr Obama in March, when he was given a stern dressing-down and denied permission to hold a joint press conference, Mr Netanyahu’s visit to the White House next Tuesday is likely to be cloaked in civility.
The Israeli prime minister is being promised photo opportunities with his host in the White House Rose Garden and perhaps even an invitation to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
But the show of unity is being seen as a sop to members of Mr Obama’s party who afraid of angering Jewish American voters ahead of November’s midterm elections than as a sign of genuine rapprochement.
Israeli officials have been quoted as saying that they expect a sterner private reception for their prime minister, who is yet to be fully forgiven for the perceived humiliation of Joe Biden, the US vice president, during a visit to Israel in March.
Mr Biden had come to Holy Land to launch indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. But negotiations collapsed before they started after Mr Netanyahu’s government announced plans to expand a Jewish settlement in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.
According to Mr Oren, attempts to gain leverage over President Obama through some of his “pro-Israel” aides – believed to be a reference to Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief-of-staff, and Dennis Ross, a senior State Department official – had failed.
Instead Mr Obama had shown determination to take personal charge of the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace process and is understood to hold Mr Netanyahu at least partly responsible for the lack of progress.
“It’s a one man show,” Mr Oren reportedly told his colleagues.
During the briefing, Mr Oren insisted that Mr Emanuel, despite some doubts in Israel, remained a friend of the Jewish state.
On a recent visit to Israel for his son’s bar mitzvah, Mr Emanuel, who is Jewish, telephoned him in tears because of the warm reception he had received from ordinary Israelis during a jog in Tel Aviv, Mr Oren said.
Mr Oren denied the comments attributed to him during the briefing. It is the second time pessimistic comments made by the ambassador during private briefings have been made in the past four months.