Closure of the West Bank, the opening of a new synagogue in Palestinian territories and, according to Peace Now, over 50,000 new housing and hotel starts [in East Jerusalem] continue to stress relations between the US and Israel. It is no secret that countries often have national interests that do not align. The irony here is that Israel appears to have intentionally slighted an ally that does not fail to back their national interest -- ever.
The US has emotionally, strategically and financially supported Israel for decades. More importantly, the US has allowed it to pay lip service to peace for years.
Vice President Joe Biden, who proclaims that there is no better friend to Israel [than the US], walked head on into an Israel that seemingly had no problem with challenging that friendship by making a highly political and confrontational statement. The declaration that it approved 1600 housing starts is not the point. The true message is that Israel could not be bothered with the likes of its old friend, US policy or America's current, and extremely serious, attempts to promote peace.
In a poor effort to try to repair the rebuff, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The timing of the East Jerusalem announcement was a technical mishap" and would be "investigated." There was no statement on why the Israeli's had promised to halt settlements yet, like every other Israeli Administration before his, continues to build them by the thousands.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was more honest. He made no excuse for this "technical mishap." Lieberman stated that "the demands made by the U.S. and other world powers regarding the cessation of Israel's building projects in East Jerusalem were unreasonable." He declared that "preventing Jews from buying lands anywhere in the capital is a form of discrimination" (although Jerusalem is not the capital under international law) saying nothing about Israeli discrimination against Palestinians or their rights to buy these homes. In fact, he failed to mention that hundreds of Palestinian houses were demolished in order to build the new settlements.
Israeli officials and commentators are declaring that the US should stay out of Israeli affairs. I couldn't agree more. The US should also halt the $3 billion dollars in aid Israel receives every year, cancel the provisions in the Cranston amendment, where the US pays Israeli loans (Americans need that provision more), and require Israel to sign the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT) or just slap sanctions on them for illegal nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately none of these things will ever happen. It is not just the Obama Administration that lacks backbone when it comes to Israel; it is also the entire US Congress. If China, Iran or Russia pulled these shenanigans, they'd be legislated to death.
President Shimon Peres verified this himself. Right after the confrontation he proclaimed that it was important to ease tensions. Haaretz quoted him as saying, "We have deep respect for [U.S.] parliamentary and executive institutions. We want these relations and are interested in returning them to their regular, positive state." Translation: with the US Congress in your pocket you can build all the settlements you want and the US will ignore more than one illegal rocket. No peace required.
In case you missed it, this direct insult to Vice President Biden stirred my inner most national loyalties. From what I see around me, it has done much of the same to others. Israel has squandered its US support by continuing to build settlements, failing to step up to the peace process and further weakening the US's position in the Middle East. As General Petraeus stated, "Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region. America's relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America's soldiers."
To go one step further, neither is it as important as the United States itself. The settlement announcement has brought up more than a failure of communication. It has brought up a blatant disregard for an America that has perceived itself as an ally, a partner and a friend. The tipping point is that this perception is clearly just that - a perception - and the historical relationship is obviously heading straight toward a much cooler end.