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Why would Israeli officials degrade Israel by humiliating the vice-president of the United States?

What conceivable advantage is there in the Interior Ministry choosing the occasion of a high-profile visit by Joseph R. Biden, Jr., a mission aimed at soothing strained relations between Israel and the Obama administration, to announce the approval of 1,600 new homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem?

Or to add, in insult to injury, that construction on the new homes could begin as soon as early May.

What could officials here gain from what is, in effect, an Israeli version of the incitement the government so keenly - and correctly -decries in its Palestinian incarnations?

It the same edge that Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud stood to gain by telling the Washington Post, "While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel, we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming."

It is the base sentiment that Avigdor Lieberman's Foreign Ministry has courted in trying to make Israel appear to loom large by treating dignitaries from overseas to petty indignities and frank disrespect.

The profit, for the hard right, is political. It mines an emotional vein along a relatively small but potent segment of the Israeli electorate, which holds that to insult Israel's indispensible ally is to assert the Jewish state's independence.

In their drive to expunge any trace of hitrapsut - groveling to the colonial master - there are those among the ostensible super-patriots of the right who revel in shots across the bow of the American ship of state.

On the whole, the farther right one goes in Israel, the more pronounced the sentiment. Avowedly pro-Kahane extremists, now strong enough to have placed their own representative in the Knesset, have gained shock cred by lining highway underpasses with posters of the "Jew-hater Obama" photoshopped into wearing a Palestinian kaffieh.

Harder to fathom was the Defense Ministry's Monday announcement that work would resume on 112 homes in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, units whose construction had been suspended under a White House-spurred settlement freeze.

Chalk it up, if you like, to the powerful pro-settler presence in certain strata of Israel's bureaucracy. Or credit the mercurial, not to say, erratic, policy style of Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak. Or accept the official explanation that the timing of the decision was coincidence, entirely unconnected with the vice-presidential visit.

In the anarchic swirl of current Israeli governance, the correct answer may well be: all three.

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