There’s nothing strange about Arab parties rejoicing at the “emergency crisis” between the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US administration after US Vice President Joe Biden was angered by the timing of an announcement by the Israeli government to build another 1600 housing units in Jerusalem. The Obama administration considered it a blow to it and its diplomacy. Biden, who came from Washington especially to set the wheel of the stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in motion even through indirect negotiations, felt insulted by the behavior of Netanyahu’s government that chose to announce its new settlement project in Jerusalem during Biden’s visit to Israel. Biden reacted furiously through a statement criticizing the Israeli step and expressed his disapproval by arriving late to the dinner party held at Netanyahu’s home.
The Obama administration also took action to express its anger through a series of comments and telephone conversations and by postponing the return of Special Envoy George Mitchell to the region. The US anger was echoed also within Israel, as the media and the opposition launched strong attacks on Netanyahu and accused him of political incapability and of creating a crisis with the US ally. But what’s striking is that all of this uproar has not led to the cancellation of the Israeli decision [to build new homes] as Netanyahu apologized for the “timing” of the announcement but not for the content of the announcement and his government does not seem to be taking a step back from the settlement policy and the most it might offer Washington in this regard is to delay the construction but not cancel the settlement project. Taking Jerusalem and swallowing it up is considered an Israeli strategy that various fundamental Israeli forces follow and it is not a policy that is particular to the right-wing alone, and if they differ on one thing it’s the extent of their hostility in the policy of settlement expansion.
On the Arab level, there was clear joy regarding this “mini crisis” between Washington and Tel Aviv. One fears that this joy will make us forget that the Netanyahu step was also a blow to the Arab position, which, only recently, gave “mandate” to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume indirect negotiations with Israel. It seems that Netanyahu took the Arab step as a sign of weakness especially as Abbas had promised before not to return to negotiations unless the Israeli settlements stopped however he withdrew from his position and accepted the US proposal to return to indirect negotiations.
Some might say that the Arab step embarrassed Netanyahu and pushed him towards a showdown with the US party, and this is true. But the question is: will the US-Israeli “crisis” continue or will it be contained quickly? Will Netanyahu’s “blow” push the Obama administration to change its approach towards Israel or will it continue with the usual US approach as it is considered a spoilt ally with which there cannot be an open crisis and accordingly it cannot be pressured under the banner of not harming its security?
Based on past experiences it is most likely that the current “crisis” between Washington and Tel Aviv is an argument that won’t last long, especially as the position of the [senior] staff of the current US administration is the same as the former administrations i.e. an “absolute” commitment to Israel’s security and in dealing with it based on the consideration that it is the spoilt ally. Moreover, there are numerous influential positions in Washington that will not allow the Obama administration to take this crisis too far. Most importantly, the Obama administration will not be able to act on behalf of the Arabs and the Palestinians in facing Israel and as long as there is Palestinian division and Arab weakness the current Israeli government will not halt its settlement program. Suffice it to mention that before the announcement to build new housing units in Jerusalem this government took a number of provocative steps including seizing Palestinian land and Palestinian homes, and annexing areas in Hebron that it considers Jewish heritage. Such policies cannot be confronted by solely relying on a “crisis” between Washington and Tel Aviv as the basic responsibility lies on the Palestinian party that must bring an end to the fragmentation and division that has exacerbated Palestinian suffering and weakened the position of the Palestinians just as it has paralyzed the Arab stance and further weakened its weak position.