Israel’s Netanyahu abrasive, but justifiable

March 26, 2010 — by Mira Chaykin and Ben Clement

Tension increased between the U.S. and Israel as a result of Benjamin Netanyahu’s inappropriately timed decision to announce the construction of 1,600 Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu foolishly chose to disseminate the information during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit that was intended to strengthen Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. While the timing was certainly ill-chosen, Israel has every right to build settlements in East Jerusalem.

The decision to continue building projects in Neve Yaakov, a Jewish suburb in East Jerusalem, could have had fewer adverse effects had it been pursued in a less obnoxious fashion. Despite this, the building project itself is completely justified, seeing as Netanyahu’s government was elected under the promise to keep Jerusalem under Israeli control. East Jerusalem is a major source of strife, and recently the Palestinians have been showing interest in claiming it as their capital, thus giving Israeli’s every incentive to protect what they believe is rightfully theirs.

However, given Obama’s campaign promise to fully freeze Jewish settlement construction and increase the number of Arab building projects, Netanyahu probably could have figured out that the VP’s visit would not have been the optimal time to blatantly ignore the president’s wishes. Biden, who, so far this term, has proved to be a staunch supporter of Israeli security and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, was humiliated by Israel’s selfish decision to utilize his visit as a launching pad for their project. The ill-timed announcement to build in the disputed area created tension between the two allies in a time when Israel needs all the support it can muster.

Netanyahu’s government and the Israeli people cannot afford the controversy created by abrasive political moves such as this, because it detracts from the real issue of regional stability. More importantly, Netanyahu should know that Israel will be harshly condemned for any decision of this nature. If they want to accomplish anything, it must be executed in an honest and precise manner.

Despite this error in judgment on Israel’s part, America has unrealistic hopes in expecting Israel to suddenly halt and terminate this project. That would create a breach of trust between the Israeli government and its citizens, who expect their elected leaders to follow through on their mandates, instead of passively submitting to the United States’ will.

Not only would the decision to halt the building project weaken the right-wing government in the eyes of the people but, more importantly, in the eager eyes of the Palestinians. When they see Israel backing down and failing to follow through on its building projects, they will not hesitate to give the country a run for its money; not only for that territory, but for whatever territory they could possibly accumulate.

In hindsight, the spectacle has only made life harder for Israel, who, in recent times, has been increasingly portrayed as the antagonist and, whether or not they deserve this label, this pattern of finger-pointing is not productive for anyone.

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