WASHINGTON — Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had gone to great lengths to avoid being involved in the American elections, contrary to a wide perception that he favored Republican Mitt Romney.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu went to extraordinary lengths not to be dragged into the U.S. presidential elections," Oren said during a lunch with reporters at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington.
"It was all in accordance with protocol," Oren said. "There was no attempt to interfere with the political process here."
Netanyahu, who has known Mitt Romney since the late 1970s, appeared in the U.S. with him during the election but not with Obama, with whom he has had a less-than-warm relationship. Oren said that President Obama had met with Netanyahu nine times during his term and that the two frequently speak on the phone — "three times in the last few weeks."
Oren also defended Israel's announcement of plans to build more housing in a contested area, dismissing the area east of Jerusalem labeled "E1" as a "strip of highway less than 2 miles long" and a "barren desert," and denying contentions that the expansion would impede internal transportation in a Palestinian state.
After the Palestinians' move to upgrade their status at the United Nations, Oren said, Netanyahu "wanted to send a message, a calibrated message that we could also take unilateral actions."
He painted a dark picture of Israel's current situation, saying that the country faced "unprecedented challenges." He quoted the beginning of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities as descriptive of the challenges that face Israel, but said, "Let me just invert that quote — it was the worst of times."