The government once again made a foolhardy, unnecessary and damaging mistake, with the announcement that the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee has given the go-ahead to build 1,600 new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, which sits beyond the Green Line, on the same day that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the capital for a visit.
Biden's visit was aimed at opening a new chapter in the Obama administration's relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as demonstrating America's commitment to Israel's security, advancing peace in the Middle East and thwarting the Iranian nuclear threat. The vice president had been effusive in his statements of support for Israel - until, that is, he learned of the latest construction plans in East Jerusalem. Following that disclosure, Biden issued a condemnation and arrived late for dinner at the Prime Minister's Residence. Any diplomatic achievement yielded by his visit quickly gave way to an embarrassing faux pas.
Netanyahu passed the buck to Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who expressed "sorrow for the distress" and proceeded to blame Planning and Building Committee subordinates "for not updating him." These responses are ridiculous, and only serve to present the government as an unruly organization whose officials operate without any supervision or direction from above. It is hard to believe that Netanyahu and Yishai were unaware that such a vast construction project was in the works; if they really did not know, then they failed in their duties.
The real problem, however, is not the timing of the announcement or the act of insulting a crucial ally - which are in themselves quite serious issues. Rather, it is the government's policy, which from the outset spawned this damaging project. Under the cover of nicely worded statements touting two states for two peoples and the hoopla over the renewal of indirect negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu and his government continue to establish facts on the ground - and in such a way as to conquer yet another hill and another path, while populating East Jerusalem with more and more Jews.
Rather than making conciliatory gestures toward the Palestinians and promoting an end to the conflict, the prime minister is sabotaging any chance of an agreement on the issue of Jerusalem. His construction and settlement ventures do not contribute to Israel's security or economic prosperity. Instead, they render the chances of a diplomatic solution more remote, fuel greater frustration among the Palestinians, and degrade Israel's international standing. This campaign to consolidate control over East Jerusalem must be stopped.
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