Back in March of this year, when plans were announced for the construction of 1,600 new housing units for the illegal settlement of Ramat Shlomo in occupied Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly “embarrassed” by the announcement because Joe Biden was in town.
New plans for settlements over the Green Line in Jerusalem were announced yesterday, and corporate media, like the New York Times, is reporting that “it was not immediately clear whether Mr. Netanyahu knew in advance” about them. But that misses the mark. Any new settlement plans announced by the Israeli government are completely on purpose and calculated.
As Palestinian-Canadian human rights lawyer Diana Buttu told me in an interview last March, the practice of Israel announcing new settlements plans and land confiscations while their leaders are meeting with the U.S. is not new:
The fascinating thing—again, if you look at history—all the way as far back as Baker, when he was purportedly interested in doing something with the Palestinians, Baker himself acknowledges that every visit he made to Jerusalem was marked by an announcement of settlement expansion, or settlement construction, or land confiscation or home demolition. So, this is not new. When Hillary Clinton came there was an announcement, when Secretary of State Rice came there were similar announcements, when Powell came there were similar announcements, with Albright. Every single administration since Bush the father has been met with the same sort of announcements and proclamations.
In this most recent case, it is Netanyahu visiting the United States, rather than Biden visiting Israel. But the principle remains the same: Israel can give the middle finger to the United States, and absolutely nothing will happen, because of an lobby that backs Israel no matter what it does. Announcing new settlements while professing to be interested in “peace talks” with the Palestinians are likely to continue to happen at an even more furious pace because the Republican Party now controls the House of Representatives.
Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now does a great job at showing how off-mark any analysis that implies Netanyahu did not approve of the latest plans or was not aware of them is:
1. Neither the issuing of the tenders last week (for construction in Pisgat Zeev and Ramot) nor the subsequent deposit of the plans (for construction in Har Homa and Ramot) could have taken place without the personal authorization and blessing of the Prime Minister.
2. The timing and context of these moves were chosen by the Prime Minister.3. The scope of these events go beyond simple tactical maneuvering. It appears that Netanyahu has opened up the East Jerusalem settlement floodgates.
4. It appears that the Prime Minister has a special weakness for Vice President Biden – or at least for embarrassing the man. Their last very public interaction in March 2009 was marked by the government of Israel’s promotion of a new settlement plan for Ramat Shlomo, leading to a diplomatic debacle. This weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu met Vice President Biden in New Orleans on the margins of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly — after which Biden delivered a speech pledging America’s unconditional support for Israel and saying that there should be “no daylight” between the US and Israel when it comes to security. It was a speech that – given Israel’s failure to play ball with the Obama Administration over settlements and the peace process – Netanyahu could rightfully cast as a huge diplomatic victory. And he has rewarded this victory – and Vice President Biden for his staunch support of Israel – by publicly humiliating the Vice President once again and sticking a finger in they eye of the Obama Administration.