Where does Israel’s announcement of 1,600 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem leave the United States? Where does it leave American Jews? America put immense pressure on both sides to agree to “proximity talks”—which center around its envoy, George Mitchell—even though neither side’s preconditions had been met; and soon after the U.S. vice president arrives in the area, Israel flaunts the fact that the Palestinians’ most coveted precondition—a temporary freeze on construction in East Jerusalem—remained unfulfilled.
Israel’s interior minister says the announcement’s timing was unfortunate and not intended to offend. Even if that last part is true, it made the Palestinians look stupid for agreeing to the talks (it also made them look like the victims of Israeli bullying); it made it seem that Israel was passive-aggressively expressing unseriousness about the talks; and it made the Americans appear, simply, foolish.
Even so, Biden’s condemnation was notable. One expert put it well to Haaretz: “If Netanyahu is at all serious about talks with the Palestinian Authority, this will be just the beginning of his coalition woes. Meanwhile, the Israeli bilateral relationship with the United States has just become much more difficult. It is hard to remember a time when a senior U.S. official used the word ‘condemn’ to describe the actions of any ally.”
The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Americans for Peace Now of course sided with Biden. J Street, with typical savvy—J Street’s savvy being the one thing its admirers and detractors seem able to agree about—let Biden do the talking: “J Street joins Vice President Biden in condemning … As Vice President Biden said … We echo Vice President Biden’s call.” The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group seems to be betting that when it actively evangelizes for its positions, it does more alienating than persuading. Instead, it is positioning itself to be there, waiting, when (it believes) the facts on the ground usher Americans, and particularly American Jews, into its camp.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told Haaretz that the announcement’s timing was poor but that Biden lacked tact: “The condemnation should have been issued by the State Department in Washington. … Biden undermined the central purpose of his trip to Israel—strengthening the friendship and cooperation between Israel and the U.S.” Meanwhile, no mention of the announcement appears on AIPAC’s Website. The silence is conspicuous, but is it wise? Joe Biden is known as a talker, and American Jews can surely hear him, even across a couple continents.
Earlier: Biden Bashes Settlement Announcement