Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recently announced plan of tenders for nearly 700 new apartments in East Jerusalem was not just a gesture to his restless right wing. It was yet another deliberate attempt to embarrass the White House, say Americans For Peace Now’s Lara Friedman and Ir Amin’s Danny Seideman in a provocative, must-read analysis.
One would be hard-pressed to believe that it is a coincidence that the timing of these tenders coincides with reported intensive US efforts to re-start peace talks, as well as with intensive efforts to finalize a prisoner-exchange deal securing the release of Gilad Schalit. Progress on either of these tracks (and even the news anticipating such progress) inevitably exposes Bibi to blistering criticism from his right-wing flank – and the kind of pressure that always brings out the worst in Bibi, and always in Jerusalem.
If these tenders had just been issued quietly and without fanfare (as is often the case), it might have been some time before anyone – including those of us who track this sort of thing closely – noticed. The fact is, there is no one-stop, handy-dandy website or publication to track this kind of thing. If the tenders had been issued that way, the government of Israel could easily have responded to any after-the-fact criticism by professing ignorance, or by saying that the tenders were simply issued in the course of the normal bureaucratic process, or with some other excuse to make the case that this is really a non-story.
But that’s not what happened. What happened is that the government of Israel deliberately elected to announce the tenders in the most public manner possible and to defend them in politically defiant terms – terms clearly aimed at Washington and the international community.
As if that was not enough, the story was spun to journalists in a way guaranteed to cause the maximum embarrassment to Washington. Reading the press reports, which are full of quotes from Israeli officials to the effect that the US was given advance warning of the tenders, Washington comes off either as complicit (e.g. the US knew and gave a tacit green light) or feckless (e.g. the US knew and was powerless to do anything).
In response, the White House rejected the tenders in terms far more categorical than the Obama Administration has used in the past, perhaps reflecting Washington’s unhappiness with being publicly embarrassed, yet again, by Bibi.