Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Looks like more empty posturing by the Obama administration

Joe Biden paid an official visit to Israel on Tuesday. In what had to have been a calculated diplomatic "bitch slap", the Israelis announced while he was there further illegal housing construction in the occupied West Bank. From Biden's Israel visit takes a rocky turn by Paul Richter Los Angeles Times 03/09/10:

In the midst of a high-profile trip by Vice President Joe Biden, Israel unveiled plans for new housing in disputed Jerusalem on Tuesday, a surprise step that embarrassed and angered the highest ranking Obama administration official yet to visit the country.

Biden, who had come to try to smooth relations with a longtime ally and promote new peace talks, denounced Israel's plans to build 1,600 housing units in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem as a threat to the search for peace.

"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said, calling it "precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now."
I'm sure the Israelis don't give a flying fig about what Joe Biden or Barack Obama say about the settlements. When Obama came into office, he demanded that Israel freeze their settlement activity. This activity is clearly illegal and officially recognized by the United States, though it's been a long time since the US Government was willing to state that publicly. Look at Biden's statement quoted here: not that the new housing is illegal, only that it "undermines the trust we need right now."

But after Obama's public demand and his announcement of a new peace initiative that so far has been nothing substantive, the Israelis resumed settlement activity. And the Obama administration increased military aid to Israel.

Talk is pointless if the administration isn't willing to back up their demands with a cutback of material aid.

But the fact that the Israelis would pull an blatant diplomatic insult on the country that is supposedly their best and most loyal ally shows that they have no fear that Obama is serious about what he says on the Israel-Palestine conflict. And this is a way of demonstrating to the whole world, especially the Arab world, that the Israelis can get away with something like this and suffer no consequences except some empty talk from Joe Biden and maybe a rescheduled diplomatic dinner or something.

This is another clear indication that the diplomatic slap at Biden and Obama was intentional:

The announcement caught even many Israelis by surprise, in part because the neighborhood, home to many young couples, had not been among those previously earmarked for expansion. Ramat Shlomo is in an Orthodox neighborhood built on land annexed by Israel after the 1967 war.

"It's totally out of the blue," said Hagit Ofran, spokeswoman for Peace Now, which tracks Israeli settlements.

She said the project came up for initial review at a planning meeting Tuesday, and still faces several hurdles before approval. Construction may not begin for two years, she said.

"But politically, it means there is an intention to expand there," she said.
Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah have an overview of the current, stuck-in-the-mud-as-usual state of the US non-efforts in the Israel-Palestine peace non-process: A Path to Peace The American Prospect 03/10/10 Apr 2010. They write:

Expectations were high -- and now so is the disappointment, as peace efforts have floundered on the ground and were absent even rhetorically from January's State of the Union. ...

The United States must act on the recognition that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to every other issue in the region and beyond. Palestinian dispossession remains the lens through which the Muslim world and much of the global South view the United States. Much as many Americans are rightly preoccupied with Israel's acceptance and security, more than 1 billion people throughout the world are rightly preoccupied with Palestinian freedom and security. Although other atrocities have sometimes competed with the Palestinian cause for the attention of Muslims, nothing else has had the staying power.

The best attempt to articulate the linkage between Israeli--Palestinian peace and the rest of the Middle East so far remains Obama's Cairo speech last year. In that speech, the president brilliantly lined up the Muslims of the world (Arabs and Iranians included), Israelis, and Americans on the same side of a divide that left the al-Qaeda brand of Salafist jihadism isolated. Middle East peace, he said, "is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest."

That speech needs to become U.S. policy.
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