Provocative Timing / Bibi's Latest Card

Having exhausted the "state of the Jewish people" card, the prime minister pulls out another one: "Jerusalem, the unified capital of Israel." In normal days, granting Jerusalem a preferred city status would have gone almost unnoticed. But when negotiations stumble, days are anything but normal, and there's not a place more ready for trouble than Jerusalem.

The timing of the government resolution granting special priority to Jerusalem seems like a deliberate provocation. As far as Palestinians and Americans are concerned, any decision changing status quo in the city is stepping on a wart. To them, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and even Pisgat Ze'ev and Gilo are occupied territory every bit as much as Nablus and Ramallah.

On days when the American administration is leaving no stone unturned to clear the way for the negotiations, decisions such as this are stumbling blocks of the first order. In the United States, the impression is that Netanyahu misses no opportunity to present president Obama, during already-tough times on the Democrats, as useless since he is failing to compel the little protectorate of Israel even to temporarily freeze settlement construction. Washington knows that Bibi is well-versed in American politics, and it would be difficult to persuade the Americans that he chose the eve of the elections in Congress to embarrass the ruling party. What congressional candidate would dare confront the Jewish community over Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is also a trump card in the internal political game in Israel. Without progress in the negotiations, all creative ideas about partitioning the city vacated the scene for Rivlin-esque slogans on "the bedrock of our existence." The Jewish neighborhoods and enclaves in East Jerusalem have planted themselves firmly in the national consensus, and Netnayahu knows that neither opposition flagship Kadima, nor coalition partner Labor, would dare to oppose any decision to Judaize, beg pardon, strengthen "unified Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel."