The Slap Heard Round the World

It is hard to decide which possibility is worse: that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to foil the resumption of the negotiations for a permanent settlement at any cost, even if it comes with a crisis in relations with the Obama administration, or that the prime minister has lost control over one of the most explosive issues in the Middle East.

The result would be the same either way. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who came to Israel determined to embrace Netanyahu all the way to indirect talks with the Palestinian Authority, swore allegiance to the security of Israel, but was slapped in the face with such force that it was heard in Washington.

Netanyahu forced the White House to chose between two options: to turn the other check and lose the Palestinians for the last time, making Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's day, or to slap back immediately. Washington chose the second option.

We can assume that when Netanyahu prepared for Biden's visit, he did not know that the District Committee for Planning and Construction at the Interior Ministry was planning to present the guest with its decision for a plan to build 1,600 new housing units in the Haredi Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, beyond the Green Line.

We can even give Interior Minister Eli Yishai the benefit of the doubt and take him seriously when he says that had he known the plans were before the committee yesterday, he would have asked for a delay until a better time.

The mistake is not the broadening of construction in East Jerusalem at the peak of a U.S. effort to rescue what is left of a two state deal; the mistake, according to Yishai, is the timing. Had his committee delayed the matter a day or two, everything would have been fine.

The real problem is not that Netanyahu is looking for trouble with Israel's best friend. The problem is that he is not governing, or does not want to govern in Jerusalem. Once more the matter ended with a slap on the wrist. Just a slap.