The Associated Press reports that after the Israeli government humiliated the US Vice President Joe Biden, the minister responsible says he’s sorry:
Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose office announced the latest construction plans in east Jerusalem, apologized Wednesday for disrupting Biden’s visit. But he said the problem was merely about timing, not substance.
“We had no intention, no desire, to offend or taunt an important man like the vice president during his visit,” Yishai told Israel Radio. “I am very sorry for the embarrassment … Next time we need to take timing into account.”
Ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said the ministry routinely issues announcements of planning decisions immediately after they are taken. But this is not the first time that such announcements have dovetailed with visits by top U.S. officials. Plans for hundreds of settlement apartments were announced during the peace mission of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The Israeli announcement drew an unusually harsh condemnation from Biden late Tuesday. And in an apparent snub Tuesday night, Biden pointedly arrived 90 minutes late to his scheduled dinner with Netanyahu
The Los Angeles Times reports:
Biden, who had come to try to smooth relations with a longtime ally and promote new peace talks, denounced Israel’s plans to build 1,600 housing units in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem as a threat to the search for peace.
“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden said, calling it “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”
“We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them,” Biden said.
The sharp turn of events abruptly changed the tenor of the trip in its second day, coming just hours after the vice president proclaimed his love for Israel and declared enduring U.S. support. Biden’s visit followed a year of tension brought on by Israel’s defiance of the Obama administration’s admonitions on precisely the same issue: housing settlements in disputed areas.
Obama administration cheerleaders like J Street might get a kick out of hearing Biden being harshly critical of the Israeli government, but what’s a denunciation like this really worth?
The administration either needs to threaten to apply real pressure on the Israeli government, or, if it wants to confine itself to diplomatic gestures then it should do so under the tutelage of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In response to Israel’s latest contemptuous behavior, Biden could — he really could — have turned around and said adiós. He does after all belong to an administration that less than a year ago was advising Netanyahu to complete his “homework” on freezing settlements before it would be worth arranging a meeting.