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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ramat Shlomo: What happened?

In the Friday JPost, Gil Hoffman explains how the announcement regarding new building in Ramat Shlomo hit Netanyahu in the face.

NETANYAHU FIRST heard about the Ramat Shlomo building project when Hefetz interrupted a meeting at the prime minister’s Knesset office with Kadima MK Nachman Shai, who presented his doctorate to Netanyahu, his former colleague at the embassy in Washington.

Hefetz informed Netanyahu that he had read about the decision to build in the northeastern Jerusalem haredi neighborhood on the Internet. The prime minister apparently had not heard of Ramat Shlomo and asked where it was. [THAT strains credibility. He's a Jerusalemite. CiJ]

Had direct talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas begun, perhaps Netanyahu would have heard about the neighborhood from him, because it was one of the few places over the Green Line that Abbas told former prime minister Ehud Olmert that Israel could keep in a final-status agreement.

According to a December 8 Channel 10 report, when Olmert offered the Palestinians 94.5 percent of the West Bank and another 5.5% of pre-1967 Israel, Abbas responded with his own map in which Israel would keep only 1.9% of the area over the Green Line. Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and some Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods were not included in the 1.9%, but Ramat Shlomo specifically was.

When informed of the announcement about Ramat Shlomo, Netanyahu immediately called Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who told him that he knew a decision about the neighborhood was expected eventually but that he did not know the planning committee would be meeting while Biden was in town.

Yishai told Netanyahu that he would take responsibility for his ministry’s decision and deflect blame from the prime minister himself. But Yishai also said he thought the public would not understand why Israel was apologizing for building in Jerusalem, which is not included in the 10-month construction moratorium in Judea and Samaria.
The article then goes on for several paragraphs implying that Yishai is to blame and that he prepared a 'surprise' for Biden. Maybe. But you can bet that no one in Yishai's office will talk about it.

Hoffman also contradicts Laura Rozen's report in Politico - which was apparently sourced in the Israeli media who allegedly heard from Dennis Ross - about how angry Biden was. This is Hoffman on the hour and a half delay before dinner on Tuesday night.
During that time, Biden met with his staff at the David Citadel Hotel and was in touch with Washington to decide how to respond to the Ramat Shlomo announcement. Netanyahu’s associates said the dinner was still warm in more ways than one, and that Biden was apologetic about condemning the building project.

“They felt forced to respond and they [also] don’t like that [the Ramat Shlomo controversy] overshadowed other elements of the visit,” a senior Israeli official said. “This is the last thing you want in a vice presidential visit. It’s an unfortunate bump in the road, but the same values [of Israel and the US] are still in place. There is an ongoing disagreement between Israel and the US on building in Jerusalem and that would have been true whether this was announced the week before or the week after.”
Hoffman has more to say about the warm relations between Netanyahu and Biden. Read the whole thing.

Haaretz claims that Netanyahu was surprised by the American condemnation of the Ramat Shlomo building plan. Haaretz also says that the Israeli government believes that the White House is orchestrating the 'crisis.'
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said the crisis appeared to be orchestrated by the U.S. administration, as Netanyahu apologized to U.S. Vice President Biden and believed that the crisis was behind the two allies.

And there is certainly reason to believe that's correct.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday called Israel's announcement "insulting" to the United States.

"I mean, it was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone - the United States, our vice president who had gone to reassert our strong support for Israeli security - and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that known," Clinton said during the CNN interview.

Clinton did not blame Netanyahu personally for the announcement, but she said, "He is the prime minister. Like the president or secretary of state...ultimately, you are responsible."
I guess she ought to know that from when her husband was President.

Look, it's no secret that Obama hates Israel and that Hillary Clinton - whose closest friends in the American Jewish community all belong to American Friends of Peace Now - is not exactly enamored of us either. But there's someone else who's been orchestrating this 'crisis': The Israeli media. The lead headline in every newscast I've heard this morning and in all the newspapers I heard read on the 5:00 am news magazine were about Clinton's call to Netanyahu on Friday. Clearly, someone has an interest in this crisis not blowing over. And it's not just the 'Palestinians.'

What could go wrong?

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