Bibi Netanyahu told the Knesset on Monday that “Over the past 40 years, there has not been a government in Israel that agreed to limit building in Jerusalem.” He implied he wouldn’t be the first one.
It was his response to the demands of the Obama administration to stop all Jewish construction in Jerusalem. His statement comes in the shadow of the furor that began last week when Israel’s Interior Ministry announced plans to build 1,600 new apartment units in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.
That statement came last Tuesday in the middle of a state visit by Vice President Joseph Biden. Biden immediately condemned the announcement and said it prejudiced the start of “proximity” talks scheduled between Israelis and Palestinians after a 14-month moratorium.
Netanyahu apologized to Biden for the timing of the announcement and said he was unaware of the lower level bureaucratic decision. Biden accepted Bibi’s explanation and by Thursday, the affair seemed to be over.
But then on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned Netanyahu and said the matter had been “insulting” to the U.S. In unmistakable diplomatic language and signs, Clinton took Netanyahu to the equivalent of the diplomatic woodshed.
The State Department spokesman made it clear the call was 43 minutes long, not the usual 10-minute call. Clinton did most of the talking. Netanyahu did most of the listening. She also demanded certain steps Israel must take before the start of the “proximity” talks.
The tenor and tone by Clinton showed a marked difference from Biden’s visit, which ended Thursday. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren – who was summoned to the State Department for a dressing down as well - called it the worst crisis in U.S.-Israel relations in 35 years. One Israeli commentator termed it “one of the harshest condemnations ever leveled against us by a U.S. government.”
But what changed from Thursday to Friday?
Some observers believe President Obama saw an opportunity to strike at the heart of Netanyahu’s government and sink his coalition.
Here’s how former U.S. negotiator for the Bush Administration Elliott Abrams explained it to Israel Radio:
“The administration was very hostile to the Netanyahu government. They were hostile before he did anything. So one argument you can make is that they really don't like dealing with the Netanyahu government and that they want to see if they can get rid of it and bring down the coalition.”
Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post wrote on her website that those who know Obama should have expected no less:
“Anyone who paid the slightest attention to who Barack [short for Barakeh in Arabic] Obama is before he was elected knew full well that this man is an enemy of Israel. He was a member of an ardently anti-Semitic church for more than two decades. His friends ranged from virulently anti-Israel and anti-Jewish like Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, William Ayres, Jeremiah Wright, Samantha Power and Susan Rice -- among others -- to radically post-Zionist like Arnie Wolf, Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod not to mention Joe Biden. Given his pedigree, no one should have been surprised that Obama has chosen to stir up a crisis in his relations with Israel.”
Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League also accused the Obama administration of implying that Israeli policy on building in Jerusalem endangers U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yediot Aharonot, an Israeli newspaper, quoted Vice President Biden as saying, “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
In this morning’s Jerusalem Post, Foxman said this charge comes from the “linkage fantasy” that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sorted out then the rest of the West’s conflict with radical Islam will vanish. That logic puts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the center of Islam’s war with the West rather than recognizing the center of the conflict in the Middle East is radical Islam’s desire to destroy the West – Israel first – regardless of how or when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
Some believe the Obama administration is trying to court Islamic favor at Israel’s expense. If this is so, they’re swimming upstream with the majority of Americans and U.S. lawmakers.
Yoram Ettinger, Israel’s former liaison to the U.S. Congress noted that “U.S. constituents and their representatives on Capitol Hill are aware that 3,000 years before Obama entered the White House, and 2770 years before the U.S. gained its independence, King David entered Jerusalem – the heart of the Jewish people ... For instance 25 towns in the U.S., from Massachusetts to Oregon, bear the name of Jerusalem – Salem. It reflects the unique bonds that exist, since the 17th century pilgrims and the founding fathers, between the U.S. and the Jewish capital, the Jewish state and Judaism.”
The question in this current controversy centers on Jerusalem and whether or not Jews are able to build in the city they call their “eternal and undivided capital.” One wonders if it’s possible that one day this kind of controversy will bring the nations to gather around Jerusalem as the prophet Zechariah once wrote.
"I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” (Zechariah 12: 2-3)
As the prophet Zechariah said, Jerusalem is an immovable rock. Perhaps it’s advisable for the U.S.’s secretary of state, vice president or even president not to try to lift it.