Israel's Snub does not please Uncle Sam
The U S Prime Minister, Joe Biden's visit to Israel last week was supposed to be simple. Reaffirm the alliance under the new administration by cooking up pressure on Iran and taking to the table for the Israel-Palestine Peace Process, the change Obama's Middle East policies are pushing towards. What turned out left almost everyone in shock. Everyone, except Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister.
The day before Biden landed in Israel, the Israeli government approved 112 new homes to be built in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit near Bethlehem. Following this breach of supposed partial freeze to settlement expansion came the sucker punch later in the day when the Jerusalem District Planning Committee announced the construction of 1,600 new homes in Ramat Sholmo, north of down town Jerusalem. This is the part of Jerusalem that is included in a proposed two state solution for the Palestinians, who have since provoked to move out of the US brokered revived Israel-Palestine peace negotiations.
Biden, one of the staunchest supporters of Israel, while condemning this act, said in his address at an Israeli university “building peace between a democratic state of Israel and an independent Palestinian State is profoundly in Israel's interests”. No one, it seems, told Biden that the only peace process that Israel believes in is the one that follows Israel's choices. Israel is unilaterally making the decisions for the coalition in the region. This seems a resumption of Israeli hostility towards the Obama Administration.
While it is obvious that Israel would need support from the big four against Iran, this move would further distance its allies. US has already found the road to condemning Iran a bumpy one and for Israel to extract a direct condemnation from the US Vice President visiting Israel in as clear terms as “I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem; precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now”.
The deal in front of Israel is clear from the US, we help you against Iran, you broker against Palestinians. Either the help comes as political in terms of sanctions, support for which is limited, or if its military, something that Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barrak recently said time was going to be in “few months”, US backing would be imperative. Such a an act would garner no support in Washington.
On the latest count, Israel has toughened up security in the West Bank to protect against a Palestinian reaction. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton has said that this will move the US away from Israel. Speaking to Netanyahu for 43 minutes, she felt that the move was “deeply negative”.
The question to ask is, what does Israel aim to tell the US by this latest snub? Obama's policies have not been too popular in Tel Aviv. What new plan would Obama's administration would have to come up with now to get Israel broker towards a peace deal. One thing is for certain however, this US administration is more focused on a solution than predecessors. Biden, and Hillary's reactions are significant and the resolve of George Mitchell to play the shuttle in the indirect talks, Obama wants progress.
While Netanyahu issued an apology about the incident, there has been no notification of whether the proposed building plan has been scrapped or even postponed. Obama, has been made to look like a fool to think that he was on the same page as the rest.