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Ran Ukashi

The Biden-Netanyahu Affair: Much Ado About Nothing

By Ran Ukashi

To many observers around the world it would appear that Israel and the United States have reached an intractable impasse. The political gaffe, whereby an Israeli bureaucrat announced the construction of 1600 new homes in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo, ostensibly unbeknown to Prime Minister Netanyahu, has some observers claiming that this is the worst political crisis US-Israeli has faced in nearly 40 years. There is indeed a crisis here, but it has very little to do with the construction of some tentative housing projects to be built 2-3 years from now comprising the approximate area of the White House, and has everything to do with the Obama administration’s ludicrous policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict.

After calling the construction announcement during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel an “insult,” the Administration was quick to “condemn” the proposed construction project, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally lambasting Prime Minister Netanyahu over the telephone for 45 minutes.  The Administration has even alluded to the need to potentially reevaluate its relationship with Israel, doubting Israel’s “commitment” to peace.  What is particularly surprising, is that the United States was allegedly “surprised” at all.  The moratorium on settlement construction that was squeezed out of Netanyahu never included Jerusalem in the first place.  In fact, Hillary Clinton called this moratorium “unprecedented” in history—knowing full well that Jerusalem was excluded from such considerations, but also ignoring the freezes that occurred during the Camp David Accords and the all but forgotten removal of Israelis from Gaza in 2005!  It would seem that Israel made quite a severe diplomatic error, so perhaps Israel should take a page from more successful diplomatic endeavours by some other notable countries with which the United States appears to be more “satisfied.”  Perhaps if Israel were to emulate the policies of these countries, it would avert future admonishment from its greatest ally.

Perhaps Israel should aggressively pursue a nuclear program (in a much more public and forceful manner that its existing clandestine program) while threatening surround countries with utter annihilation and genocide.  It should simultaneously imprison and murder certain religious minorities within its borders, and threaten the United States, Europe and any other state with destruction should it choose to intervene in its affairs.  This is of course, Iran’s preferred foreign policy track, which has earned it the “outstretched hand” of the United States, which is seeking dialogue and reconciliation with Iran and the Muslim World.

Or perhaps Israel should name a square in Tel Aviv after a person known to have murdered multitudes of innocents, including Americans.  This would surely polish Israel’s tarnished image in the eyes of the United States.  If one finds this hard to believe, consider the fact that around the same time of Biden’s visit to Israel, the Fatah-controlled West Bank named a square in the town of El Bireh to honor the memory of Dalal Mughrabi, who murdered 38 Israeli civilians in a massacre on an Israeli bus, 13 of which were children.  To add insult to injury, among the dead was an American photographer named Gail Rubin, the niece of U.S. senator Abraham Ribicoff.  This event was not considered an “insult” by the United States, nor was it “condemned,” and most certainly—the lauding of a mass murderer did not bring the Palestinian’s commitment to peace into disrepute—such misgivings were reserved only for Israel.

What have the Palestinians offered in return that have given them the benefit of the US confidence?  The answer is—nothing.  It is evident that the United States considers the peace process to merely be a series of concessions made by Israel to the Palestinians until the Palestinians say the conflict is over.  Surely the United States is trying to create “facts on the ground” regarding a future Palestinian state.  Israel’s construction in East Jerusalem is a signal that Jerusalem was, is, and will continue to be, the undivided capital of the Jewish People and the State of Israel (at least in rhetoric).  If Israel were to capitulate to this policy, it would be tacitly agreeing to stop the Israeli border at the 1967 Green Line, dividing Jerusalem.  This is exactly what the Obama administration desires.  This “gaffe” was just the excuse the Obama administration needed to exercise its strategic vision for the Middle East.

The Obama administration is also keenly aware of the Israeli right-wing coalition government’s pro-settlement attitude, which runs counter to the Administration’s vision for a “two-state solution.”  By making Netanyahu break on East Jerusalem and the settlements in the West Bank, they hope to break up the coalition government, making it possible for a more centrist alignment to reform, preferably with Tzipi Livni as Prime Minister.

As for the United States’ questioning of Israel’s commitment to peace—this is truly flabbergasting.  Was it not former President Bill Clinton that outright blamed Yasser Arafat for the failures at Camp David in 2000?  Was it not enough for Ehud Barak to have offered 95% of the West Bank, and all of Gaza a Palestinian state?  Did Ehud Olmert’s similar offer in 2008, including major concessions on Jerusalem that could have torn Israeli society apart, not at least prove Israel’s sincerity?  Israel’s withdrawals from 95% of the West Bank, Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza, and Israel’s unprecedented risk taking appear to be completely dismissed. 

Could all of this change if Israel took a page from Iran’s diplomatic playbook?  Why is it that a few housing units in Israel’s capital can stoke the ire of the United States, but the maniacal calls for genocide and annihilation of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and others not be cause for “condemnation” or considered an “insult”?  Israel may have to take stock and reevaluate who its friends are.  Can the US still be considered an honest peace broker if this is the reaction to a handful of housing units on the “wrong side” of the Green Line?  We must certainly hope that cooler heads prevail and the Obama administration regains some much needed perspective on its Middle East policy.

Ran Ukashi has an MA in International Relations with a focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict from the University of Manitoba, and has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

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