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Netanyahu Meets With Obama; Israel Escalates Jerusalem Settlements

March 26, 2010

The day that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Obama at the White House in a bid to ease tensions between the US and Israel also saw the announcement of an additional 20 new units approved to be built in East Jerusalem. See Paul Woodward from War In Context assessment here. The recent tensions are a result of a recent trip to Israel by US Vice President Joseph Biden in an attempt to provide an impetus to renew the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. During his visit the Interior Ministry of Israel announced the expansion of settlements in occupied East Jerusalem to the tune of 1,600 new units.

al-Jazeera English quoted Biden :

“It is incumbent on all parties to grow an atmosphere of support for the negotiations and not to complicate,” Biden said at a news conference with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on Wednesday, after the two held talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“Yesterday, the decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new planning units in east Jerusalem undermines that very trust, the trust that we need right now in order to begin, as well as produce profitable negotiations,” he said.

Despite the rise in tensions between the two allies, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described relations between the two nations as “rock solid.”

It was against this backdrop that Netanyahu came to Washington to address a meeting of AIPAC, the powerful Israel lobby in the US.  Netanyahu remained defiant in the face of US demands that Israel apologize for its earlier insult, halt all new construction in East Jerusalem, and make a substantial goodwill gesture to the Palestinians in order to get the peace talks going again.

Instead the Israeli Prime Minister asserted Israel’s right to Jerusalem.  “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today.” He said, “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.”  Unfortunately, history is not on his side in this argument.  See Juan Cole’s article for a helpful understanding of the history of Jerusalem throughout the past 3,000 years.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama was troubling for the Israeli Prime Minister.  He failed to get diplomatic relations with the US back on track and returned home empty-handed after a number of slights from the Obama administration.

al-Jazeera English reports,

No public statements were made by the two leaders following the meeting, no photo opportunities were presented and no access was granted for reporters.

But Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, rejected claims that Obama was avoiding publicity, saying: “This is the way we felt most comfortable handling this one.”

Following Netanyahu’s return, Nir Hefez, the prime minister’s spokesman, told Israel’s army radio that Israel had achieved understandings with the US, which included a point that “construction policy in Jerusalem doesn’t change”.

But Mark Regev, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office, quickly clarified that Hefez was “articulating the Israeli position … not articulating a joint position”.

It is clear that Netanyahu has come out of the crisis in a much weaker position.  As Paul Woodward has noted in another dead on analysis, “The headline for Aluf Benn’s article in Haaretz says it all: “Netanyahu leaves U.S. disgraced, isolated and weaker.”

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