You would not expect your best friend to keep you waiting 90 minutes at the dinner table. But for Israel and its closest ally, these are exceptional times – with talk of a “crisis of historic proportions.”
Israel’s settlement bombshell during Joe Biden’s visit last week left a bitter taste in the mouth of the US Vice President. His late arrival for dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it all.
The Israeli government tried to minimise the impact of its announcement with Netanyahu voicing regret at the timing. Israel says construction is several years away.
But, with no moves to cancel the plan despite Washington’s displeasure, the Obama administration has been blunt in blasting Israel’s behaviour.
“It was insulting,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “And it was insulting not just to the Vice President, who certainly did not deserve that. He was there with a very clear message of commitment to the peace process, solidarity with the Israeli people. But it was an insult to the United States.”
The US wants a formal response to its demands from Israel over the matter. So far, it seems to have come from Netanyahu’s rejection of any curbs on Jewish settlements in and around Jerusalem.
Addressing parliament during a visit from Brazil’s President Lula, Netanyahu said that despite differences in the house concerning the peace process, there was almost total consensus that annexed areas of the city would be part of Israel in any future peace deal.
In other words, whether Washington likes it or not, Israeli settlement buliding will continue in East Jerusalem.
So will the Americans punish their long-standing Middle East partner. One expert thinks not.
“Of course there will be a negotiation on the highest level, for example, between the Secretary of State Mrs Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu concerning this item,” said US affairs analyst Herman Matthijis of the Free University of Brussels. “But I don’t think, even if the United States government should have today the intention that Israel has to stop the building of new colonies, then they should take other measures concerning Israel, but they don’t do it.”
Whether it is just a symbolic crisis or something more, this spat does nothing to raise hopes for a Middle East accord. Israel’s settlement moves have infuriated Palestinians and strained ties with a third party eager to see peace talks take off.l