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Throughout the latest crisis between Israel and the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that no previous Israeli government has frozen construction in East Jerusalem has been repeatedly mentioned. Netanyahu and his associates claim that the Obama administration has been pressuring Israel over East Jerusalem building, unlike previous American administrations.

Netanyahu is right. There was never any real pressure - but the American demand in principle to cease construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is long-standing. In fact, all American governments have made the same demand of all Israeli governments, apart from on one occasion: The letter of understanding penned by former U.S. president George W. Bush that recognizes the principle of settlement blocs.

Now, the U.S. is finally putting this demand into effect. Moreover, Netanyahu must also recognize the changing reality on the Palestinian side. Until 2004, the Palestinian Authority was led by Yasser Arafat, who was perceived by the Americans and Europeans as a terrorist. Now, the Palestinian leaders are viewed in Washington and within the EU as true partners in the peace process and in the effort to create a Palestinian state. It is Israel's leaders - specifically Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Likud Minister Benny Begin and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon - who are far from being perceived in that way. In the past, the U.S. saw settlement construction as a "stick" used to deter Palestinian terror, but today it is viewed as an obstacle.

How could Netanyahu have safeguarded the construction in East Jerusalem? By offering something in return. Past Israeli governments have indicated their intent to build in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, but they simultaneously gave the U.S. a political strategy to present to the Palestinians. Netanyahu's government is backtracking on all fronts and offering nothing to the Americans or the Palestinians.

There was something extremely pretentious about Netanyahu's speech at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington. He descended upon the American capital and, on the eve of his meeting with the U.S. president, emerged with a display of power (and an impressive one at that) in declaring that Jerusalem is not a settlement. As expected, his speech was met with a harsh but proportionate response from Obama. To add to his transgressions, Netanyahu insisted on meeting Obama without any real preparation for such high-level talks.

Obama's reaction is not a result of his victory in passing health care reform. The American president doesn't needto be strong to offend an Israeli prime minister over a matter such as settlements. And despite the hopes of some in Israel, it doesn't appear that the U.S. Jewish community will go out of its way to defend Israel on the settlement issue either.

"Netanyahu should have taken into account the change within the American Jewish community," Dov Weisglass, a senior adviser to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the MESS Report. "Their support for Israel is decreasing and they will defend Israel in the face of the administration only on matters where there is a real threat to Israel. I have serious doubt that U.S. Jews see the Netanyahu government's territorial aspirations in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem as an existential matter."

"The Sharon government and the Americans had worked a clear political outline, by which the territorial dispute between Israel and the Palestinians would be resolved according to the current demographic reality. In other words, Jewish population centers including Ma'ale Adumim and others surrounding Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line, the Etzion settlement bloc and the Ariel settlement would be remain part of Israel - and what is outside of those blocs would be under Palestinian control."

"The current Israeli government, which was founded on different guiding political principles and does not recognize the Road Map, essentially abandoned the doctrine outlined in Bush's letter. Israel brought the subject of settlement construction back to square one - and the Americans obliged them by returning to their default stance that Israel cease building beyond the Green Line."

Posted by Avi Issacharoff, March 25, 2010

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