A seven hour time difference separates the East Coast from Israel and every second of it can be felt. With all parties feverishly in motion their activity has become too much for the US media to monitor. Nightly news setup for the next day can be out-dated by sunrise. The same goes for policy from Washington.
When the Arab League withdrew support from for US mediated “indirect negotiations” last Wednesday, the US government and news cycle continued for over 24 hours as if the talks were still on.
In principle we cannot complain that America finally called Israel out publicly because we advocated this demand from the Palestinians, but the response itself has been disastrous. Though oozing a lack of foresight and boldness, it's hard to believe US and Israeli officials could be so foolish.
We’re left wondering whether America and Israel are delusional or if they’re faking it.
Example: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Time lagged another day when she rebuked Netanyahu two days after Palestinian President Abbas indefinitely halted proxy talks. Without giving any indication that the talks were postponed, State department spokesman PJ Crowley paraphrased Clinton as saying, "The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security.”
Everyone understands “how this happened” though, Clinton included. She isn’t dumb or delusional. The problem isn’t that Israel fails to understand America’s commitment - the commitment’s absolute quality is the problem. Israel feels invincible to act as it does because of America’s security guarantees.
But in this specific case blaming Israel is too easy. Obama enabled Netanyahu all year and specifically last week. “Indirect negotiations” were terribly timed and overlooked smaller settlements, while US officials completely ignored the controversy over religious sites and the protests and clashes that followed. Many saw approving settlements as a slap, but Israel could be testing how far America will bend before breaking.
The White House built the situation up to that point.
Did Israel get its way then? It would seem so. Infuriated and blustered, America has yet to actually order Israel to reverse the settlement approval. Its main concern appears to be pride, not the settlements themselves.
Now the demand to halt construction could be in an undisclosed ultimatum sent to Jerusalem, yet more behind the scenes action is part of Obama’s personal problem - an impersonal touch. We only hear how he supports a Palestinian state, rarely from his own mouth. Still he remains silent as Clinton and Biden speak for him.
If Obama was truly upset with Netanyahu he wouldn’t have sent Biden to serve as a clean-up man. Obama cannot be taken at face value given his own position on Israel and especially those who lie behind him, but his absence gives the process an even faker feeling. The US-Israeli rift becomes another illusion, designed to give the legions of critics exactly what they want.
And the gap between presentation and reality continues to expand underneath.
Real or not America and Israel have hit an iceberg, the 1,600 units being the tip. The Palestinians are really protesting Israel's entire behavior. Conversely, Israel giving ground to the Palestinians remains unlikely. More settlements await their green light that could come on at any time. These 1,600 stand for all of them.
To halt construction in East Jerusalem is to “divide” Jerusalem in Israel’s world. Though Biden’s trip was bad timing, Israel also has a point: when is a good time? A week or two from now? The reality doesn't change.
Less insulting maybe, which feeds back into US ego, but more deceptive and just as disrupting to the proxy talks.
And while US envoy George Mitchell is expected back in Israel on Tuesday to push the talks forward, the Palestinians are refusing to talk until Israel backtracks. Diplomacy is a must, except US officials appear set to go a whole week ignoring that two weeks were just wasted trying to start the proxy talks.
All of Israel’s actions outside settlements have been ignored.
Crowley insisted, “We’ve been dealing with some obstacles this week, but we’re working with both sides to overcome those obstacles and keep the proximity talks moving forward. We’re still moving forward with our plans.”
That was yesterday, days after Israel’s refusal to stop settlement construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu proved again that he isn’t backing down by forming a committee to investigate the poor timing and make sure it doesn’t happen again. A committee meant to keep a lower profile on settlement approvals, not stop them.
Netanyahu also regrets the decision but doesn't apologize for it.
Crowley and Clinton’s statements came two days after the West Bank went on lock-down, Crowley’s on the same day that Israel extended its lock-down until Tuesday at the minimum. Apparently this behavior is acceptable because it happened with no US figures in town.
Chaos on the ground, and still America and Israel act as if the show is going on. Valiant, but neither dumb nor delusional. Expect the same in the future.