Broken Glass

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has no better ally today than the loony Israeli right.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handed U.S. Vice President Joe Biden broken glass. Netanyahu had not intended to do so, of course. He wanted to give Biden a tree-planting certificate in honor of Biden's mother. But his need to lean on the podium while addressing his guest caused the certificate's glass frame to shatter silently. When the festive moment arrived to proffer the gift to Israel's greatest friend, it turned out it was broken to pieces. The only thing the prime minister could offer the vice president was broken glass.

The moral is clear, but unforgivable. There has been tension between Washington and Jerusalem for a whole year. At a time when the two countries should be coordinated against the Iranian threat, they are having trouble functioning as allies. In recent months a major effort has been made to ease the tension and restore the intimacy between the governments. Biden's visit was to have been the peak of renewed rapprochement and the turning over of a new leaf in the relationship between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama.

It started out on the right foot and created a real feeling of closeness. But on Tuesday evening, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of 1,600 new apartments in Ramat Shlomo, beyond the Green Line. Thus the committee made clear that there are more important things than the Iranian threat and the alliance with the United States. The committee spit in the face of both the friendly vice president and the friendly superpower. It disfigured the face of the State of Israel with acid.

It's enough to make you pull your hair out. The threat against Israel is unprecedented. Our need for the United States is unprecedented. At this critical juncture, any national interest should be subservient to the supreme interest of strengthening this alliance. But now of all times, at the most sensitive moment, Israel chooses to act insanely, sabotaging national security with its own hands. The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee has committed an act whose implications might be no less serious than the act by Mordechai Vanunu.

Netanyahu washed his hands of it: He did not know, he had no intention, he just leaned on the glass. But this time Netanyahu can't run from responsibility. Biden's visit is of strategic importance. Jerusalem is an issue of strategic sensitivity. Ahead of a visit of strategic importance, the prime minister must ensure that a matter of strategic interest is properly managed. On his own initiative, he should speak with Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to ensure that there are no surprises. If Netanyahu did not hold such conversations, he made a serious mistake. If Netanyahu did hold such conversations, he's not really in control of the government and state. Either way, the outcome is grave. Netanyahu's country did not resemble a Silicon Valley country this week. It seemed like a miserable and shameful shtetl of a country. A Chelm of a country.

The problem is deep. Over the past 20 years Israel has shown amazing capabilities in technology, economics and security. But the success is overshadowed by two fundamental problems: the government's weakness and the continuation of the occupation. The government's weakness results in the flourishing of the private sector and the free market, while the state is not functioning and public systems are deteriorating. The continuation of the occupation makes Israel disfigure itself and its image; with its own hands it undermines the legitimacy of Zionism.

These two fundamental problems create a clear and present danger. Their fatal combination makes Israel unable to act rationally against a threat to its survival.

This week's scandal should sound a warning in Netanyahu's office. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has no better ally today than the loony Israeli right. No one is helping the Shi'ite zealots more than the Jewish zealots. Day after day, the settlements in the West Bank serve the centrifuges in Natanz. If sane Israel does not wake up, it will be defeated by the metastasizing of the occupation and the lack of the central government's ability to stop it. When the test comes, the national body could be found cancerous to the marrow.