Thursday, March 11, 2010

Joe Biden in Israel

Vice-President Biden makes a big, splashy trip to Israel for the express purpose of reassuring the Israelis of the continuing support of the Obama administration.  Either through stupidity or perhaps some kind of right wing plot, the Interior Minister approves a giant new housing development in East Jerusalem while Biden is there, and Biden ends up having to speak some tough words to the Netanyahu government, which overshadows all the friendly talk and photo opportunities.  Maybe the timing of the announcement of new settlements was just an accident and should not matter.  The Israeli government has made no secret of the fact that settlement projects are continuing, and will not be suspended to placate the Palestinian demands for pre-conditions to negotiation.  But of course timing does matter, because of how Biden's trip is reported, and how it is perceived around the world. 

I have to wonder what is really going on here.  Perhaps the whole episode was just bad luck and bad timing.  Perhaps factions of the Israeli government are really trying to test the Obama administration's commitment to Israel.  Perhaps they are actually trying to derail the peace process.  Perhaps they just don't understand that such actions not only endanger U.S. troops in the Middle East, as Biden pointed out, but also can weaken public support for Israel in the U.S. 

The Obama administration is committed to making sustained efforts to promote peace; they understand it is going to take time; and there are signs of a few positive steps taking place behind the scenes.  Some smart people, like George Mitchell, and Joe Biden himself, are heavily involved.  The administration seems focused on the big picture, and does not want to get sidetracked by the day-to-day accumulating grievances on both sides.  They are surely right to remind both the Israelis and Palestinians to focus on their long-term interests, and not their current provocations.  Yet despite all that effort, what ends up getting projected is more fumbling and bumbling on both sides, and continued mistrust and friction.  Unfortunate, but hopefully not a serious setback.

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