Here we go again. What has Israel done now? With Vice President Joe Biden here for a visit, the Israeli Interior Ministry “announced that approval had been granted to build new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox community of 20,000 north of downtown Jerusalem, which borders the Palestinian village of Shuafat.” Biden reacted to the shocking news with: “I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of [Israeli-Palestinian] proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”
Other condemnations followed like clockwork. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman made known that “the secretary-general condemns the approval of plans for the building of 1,600 new housing units in east Jerusalem.” Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said that “it is now clear that the Israeli government is not interested in negotiating, nor is it interested in peace.” He added that “massive American pressure is required in order to compel Israel to abandon its peace-destroying behavior.”
There were even condemnations — and apologies — from within Israel itself. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was reported to be “angry” at the Interior Ministry’s announcement, and his office called it “damaging” to negotiations with the Palestinians. Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog called it a “big error in government bureaucracy that should never have happened.”
Indeed, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said: “If I’d have known, I would have postponed the authorization by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone. It is definitely unpleasant that this happened during Biden’s visit. … I apologize for the distress this matter caused.”
Israel, though, seems unable to keep itself out of hot water of this kind. Last November President Obama said Israel’s intention to build 900 apartments in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo “makes it harder for them to make peace with their neighbors. I think it embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous.” And in February Israel’s announcement that it was including the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem in a list of “heritage sites” touched off condemnations by the U.S., the UN, the EU, and others — and a week of violent Palestinian rioting ensued.