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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Israeli embassy throws Nir Barkat under the bus

The Israeli embassy has thrown Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat under the bus this week according to Jonathan Tobin.
The reaction from the Obama administration has been chilly but perhaps not as chilly as that of the Israeli Embassy. The New York Times, which contrasted the chummy reception that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak got here this week from the Obami with that given to Barkat, noted that a spokesman from the Israeli embassy was at pains to distance the embassy from Barkat.

“For us, it’s lousy timing,” said a spokesman for the embassy, Jonathan Peled. He tried to put things in perspective, comparing Mr. Barkat to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington. “He’s not going to be the one negotiating peace with the Palestinians, in the same way that Fenty is not going to be the one negotiating the Start agreement with Russia,” Mr. Peled said.”

It’s true that Barkat is not a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — or even of one of the parties that forms his coalition — and is not bound to follow its lead nor empowered to represent it. But neither is he an insignificant or powerless functionary who deserves to be ignored or mocked. Moreover, his position opposing both Jerusalem’s partition and a Jewish building freeze (while Arab building continues at a higher rate and without protest from anyone) happens to be identical to that of Netanyahu.

It’s easy to understand the embassy’s desire to downplay any differences between Israel and the administration during such a tense time. Moreover, if Netanyahu has actually caved in to Obama and promised to put in place some sort of unannounced freeze in Jerusalem, he’s got to be unhappy about Barkat either opposing such a change or making it clear that development in the city will continue regardless of what Obama wants.

But people who, like Peled, are tasked with the difficult job of selling Israel’s position on its capital to both the administration and to the American public, should be wary of making it appear as though they are throwing Barkat under the proverbial bus. Disavowing a respected mayor who is also an articulate advocate for the same position as the Netanyahu government on Jerusalem may make it a little easier to deal with the White House this week but in the long run it can have a deleterious effect on Israel’s efforts to defend its capital in Washington and at home.
It's only 'lousy timing' if - contrary to what Netanyahu would have us believe - Netanyahu has agreed to freeze housing construction in 'east' Jerusalem, including all the suburbs built since the 1967 War. That's the only explanation for the treatment that Barkat has received from the Israeli embassy in Washington this week.


At 8:53 PM, Blogger Kae Gregory said...

I've only ever known a few diplomats and every one of them was terribly impressed with their own importance with respect to just about everything. Evidently, they are the same all over.

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Juniper in the Desert said...

Contortions fit for a circus or maybe Dante's ninth circle of Hell.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

It does appear that all assurances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is a construction freeze in place in Jerusalem and the Israeli government communicated to the Embassy orders not to offend the Obami.

So this is how they treat the mayor of the capital of their own country! They shouldn't be surprised what happens to Netanyahu the next time he comes calling to Washington.

What could go wrong indeed

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carl, I would have titled the piece ""The Israeli embassy throws Nir Barkat under the light-rail train".

Sorry, folks. Jerusalemite joke.

Kae, it's not the embassy staff. It's the Netanyahu directive they've received. Just watch and wait.


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