The Obama administration, via Hillary Clinton, has harshly rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for Israel’s announcement, during a trip there by Joe Biden, that it will build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem. The Washington Post reports that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation between Clinton and Netanyahu in “unusually undiplomatic terms.” In fact, a 45 minute phone conversation between parties at this level is unusual, in itself. And Clinton told CNN that “the announcement of the settlements on the very day that the vice president was there was insulting.”
Whether the administration was genuinely insulted is questionable. I suspect that it simply wishes to present itself as an injured party in order to push Israel for concessions.
After all, this administration isn’t easily offended. The governments of Iran, China, and Russia (among other regimes) have all, in various ways, insulted the U.S.and its president with no reaction, at least not a public one. Moreover, Israel has apologized for the timing of its announcement of plans for the new housing units. I don’t recall our enemies apologizing for their various derisive comments about President Obama.
Frankly, I’m not sure Israel should have apologized either. Doing so emboldens the administration to become more aggressive. On the other hand, Netanyahu understandably feels the need to come across as reasonable and conciliatory. That way, if the White House continues to overreact, Israel will be seen by its citizens and its supporters in the U.S. as more sinned against than sinning in this matter.
In fact, this is already happening. For example, the Anti-Defamation League, normally quite mild-mannered when it comes to high ranking U.S. officials, has strongly criticized the Obama administration for its “public dressing down” of Israel. Its director, Abe Foxman said:
We are shocked and stunned at the Administration’s tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Jerusalem. We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States. One can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians in the hope they see it is in their interest to return to the negotiating table.
As to the merits of Israel’s building plan, Obama and Clinton have no case. Israel did agree to a 10-month building moratorium, but the moratorium plainly did not include East Jerusalem. And the White House’s claim that the new construction will complicate a potential settlement of issues relating to East Jerusalem is garbage. As Rick Richman points out, “the area in question is one that will not be yielded to the Palestinians in any conceivable peace agreement (even one that would divide sovereignty between Jewish and Arab areas) because it is a longstanding Jewish community, not an Arab one.”
In any event, there’s no reason why Israelis should deny themselves housing while they wait for the Palestinian Authority to make peace. The potential beneficiaries of the housing would probably like to see the construction completed during their lifetime.
But this flap doesn’t seem to be about the merits. More likely, it’s about President Obama’s antipathy for Israel and his desire to put Israel on the defensive.