Wednesday, Mar. 10, 2010
Israel's Snub of Biden: More Than Just Bad Timing
By Tony Karon
Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai apologized Wednesday for "the distress caused" by his ministry's announcement on Tuesday that Israel would build 1,600 new homes for its settlers in East Jerusalem. The distress of which he spoke was caused to the person of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who had spent the day assuring Israel of America's unconditional support, and talking up the prospects of a renewed peace effort that will involve "indirect" negotiations, with U.S. Special Envoy Sen. George Mitchell shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Having been publicly humiliated by the Israeli announcement — the U.S. government opposes Israeli construction on territory captured in the war of 1967, and the Palestinians seized on Tuesday's announcement as evidence to back its claim that the Israelis don't plan to negotiate in good faith — Biden made no secret of his pique. He reportedly kept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waiting for 90 minutes before arriving a scheduled dinner (a harsh slap-down in the vocabulary of diplomatic protocol) and issued a stern statement condemning the planned construction and accusing Israel of "undermining the trust we need right now" to relaunch peace talks. See TIME's Israel covers.
Yishai's apology, though, was simply about the timing of an announcement by his bureaucratic subordinates that, he said, didn't even require ministerial approval, since the Netanyahu government's slowdown of settlement construction does not apply to East Jerusalem. "If I'd have known," said Yishai, "I would have postponed the authorization by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone."
And therein lies the rub: The Netanyahu government has no intention of halting settlement construction in East Jerusalem (which it considers to be part of Israel, though its claim to the part of the city captured in 1967 is not internationally recognized), much less of agreeing to share the city designated by the Palestinians as their own future capital.