US Vice President Joe Biden made a trip to Israel this week, and while he pledged an unyielding support for Israel, the trip was certainly not without its hiccups.
Israel’s Interior Ministry showed questionable timing when it announced on Tuesday 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem and Vice President Biden duly condemned the move, stating that this was “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now”. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “expressed his regret for the unfortunate timing” of the announcement (see more).
The Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that the Prime Minister had only just been informed of it and that the plan was “three years in the making and that its announcement was procedural and unrelated to Mr. Biden’s visit” (see more).
However, the move led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to declare that “the Palestinian side is not willing to hold negotiations under the current circumstances” (see more). The Palestinian Authority has been adamant for some time now that Israel must freeze all construction as a pre-condition for the renewal of peace talks. Only last week Abbas considered the possibility of indirect talks with Israel, which would make it easier for him to give some space on the settlements issue. Following Tuesday’s announcement senior PA officials declared that “Israel chose to humiliate the Palestinians and the international community with this move”. If the Palestinians were looking for an easy way out, they received it this time.
Our two local broadsheets have reported on the issue. Please read ‘Israel “wrecks” Mid-East peace talks’ by John Lyons from the Australian and ‘US, Abbas, furious at Israeli settlements’ by Jason Koutsoukis in the Age. It was also reported in the “News” section of the Age in a piece by Daniel Flitton in a piece entitled ‘Australia hits Israel homes plan’. The titles speak for themselves on all three fronts.
Marty Peretz, in a commentary from the New Republic, writes that there is a sticking point when the construction is deemed to be in East Jerusalem. He says, “the designated units would be in North Jerusalem, not in the eastern part of the city that carries the yolk and passion of holiness – a troublesome yoke and troublesome passion” (see more). Please also read Barry Rubin’s piece entitled ‘Announcing construction of East Jerusalem apartments: Stupid, yes; Proof of disinterest in peace, no’.
Perhaps Vice President Biden put it best when he declared “to end this historic conflict, both sides must be historically bold” (see more). Arriving at the negotiating table, both sides need to take actions in good faith. Sometimes, this good faith might mean that both sides consider their timing on certain issues. For example, just as the timing of the housing plan did not necessarily need to come when the second most senior person in the US Government is visiting Israel. The same can be said for the timing of the Palestinian Authority, which had planned to name a public square in Ramallah in honour of the terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, who perpetrated the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history when she and others hijacked a bus and murdered 37 civilians in 1978. The naming was supposed to take place yesterday, on the anniversary of the attack. Fortunately, the naming ceremony was cancelled in the last minute (see more).
Peace will only come when leaders on all sides become more courageous. It will come when the Prime Minister of the Palestinian people no longer glorifies terrorists, and instead honestly denounces terror in any form. It will come when all facets of Israeli society come together to understand what the end-game is. As Vice President Biden summed up perfectly, “I can’t tell you that peace will come easily… You know better” (see more).
And the week could not end without a reference to passports. The Israeli Newspaper Ma’ariv has reported that three Iranian citizens were apprehended at Seychelles Island with stolen Israeli passports. Needless to say this revelation did not register even a yawn in 99.9999% of the world’s media