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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Is Givat HaMatos such a big deal? Not in Washington

Shavua tov v'shana tova to all of you - a good week and a good year.

On Thursday, I reported on Prime Minister Netanyahu's reaction to the Obama administration going ballistic again over construction in 'east' Jerusalem. If you thought the article I blogged there was over the top, please consider this one from Haaretz's Barak Ravid.
The latest quandary embarrassed Netanyahu. It destroyed his last shreds of credibility and gave a strange, almost ridiculous twist to his speech at the UN and his statement to Obama about integrating the moderate Arab states in the peace process. The new, strategic idea he had brought up now seemed like another one of his spins.
President Obama and his senior advisers go nuts every time they hear the word settlement. They see Israel’s international isolation deepening and the Palestinians advancing a unilateral move in the Security Council, while they have to deal every Monday and Thursday with crises produced by settlements.
“How do such things help me to help you?” Obama asked Netanyahu. Obama and his aides cannot understand how Netanyahu thinks he could advance relations with the moderate Arab states as long as construction in the settlements continues.
“Those moves not only poison the atmosphere with the Palestinians, but also with those Arab states Netanyahu said he wants to build relations with,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, shortly after Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu.
At his meeting with reporters, Netanyahu rejected Earnest’s criticism, but did not attack Obama harshly or personally. He used diplomatic clichés to downplay the fiasco. “The tones weren’t loud,” he said. “The conversation was good and open. I highly appreciate the president’s attentiveness.”
But it was clear Obama did not invite Netanyahu to stay for lunch, preferring instead to dine alone with Vice President Joe Biden. One can only guess who those two gossiped about.
But Times of Israel's Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, who unlike Ravid lives in Washington, says it's no big deal
For all the strong language in the Washington statements, according to insiders here, the administration is not interested in turning the issue of Israel’s plans to build some 2,600 units on the southeast Jerusalem hillside into a full-blown crisis.
Veteran Washington Mideast policy folks point to the fact that during his press availability with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama did not even mention the word “settlements,” focusing instead on the warm points in the ties between the two states. Although he was aware of the building plans – White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed that the two talked about the topic behind closed doors – Obama chose to ignore the issue, and was, if anything, unusually amiable in his interaction with Netanyahu during the late morning event.
If Obama had wanted to make a major issue of the construction plans, it was well within his ability to discuss it during the press spot, when the cameras were rolling and Netanyahu would have been caught in the hot seat. Or he could have issued a statement in his own name. Or Secretary of State Kerry, who was also at the Wednesday meeting, could have done so. But they didn’t.
Instead, while the two leaders met, the State Department and the White House were coordinating strongly worded statements to be delivered by their spokespeople soon after the White House talks were completed. The decision was to strike a tone that contrasted starkly with the good-natured Obama-Netanyahu presser during the daily scheduled press briefings.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki accused Israel of being two-faced in its policies by describing the building project as “contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians,” and later warned that it would “poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations; and call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”
Earnest repeated Psaki’s criticism almost verbatim, warning that “the step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians. And it would send a very troubling message if they were to proceed with tenders or construction in that area.”
Read the whole thing.

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