Once again the US administration and Israeli government are going head-to-head. Recently, while Vice President, Joe Biden, was visiting Israel, the Israeli Interior Ministry announced a building project of 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem. Biden, followed by a number of administration officials quickly condemned the Israeli announcement as damaging for the recently renewed peace process.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu supposedly was blindsided by the far-right religious parties in his coalition. While skeptics doubt whether Netanyahu was truly oblivious, Biden took steps to accept Netanyahu’s ignorance. However, the administration followed with an outpouring of criticism and demands on the Israelis; including, investigation into the timing of the announcement, commitment towards confidence building steps (such as the release of prisoners), and a promise to discussion “final status” issues.
While the timing of the announcement was unconstructive at best; the administration’s response is unhelpful. The Obama administration consistently insists on lambasting its top ally in the region, in a continuous pattern of attack-thy-friend. This not only damages the already fragile relationship with Israel, but incites the Palestinians to avoid the negotiating table.
The administration’s continual rebukes give enormous power to the right-wing members of the Israeli ruling coalition. Many of these parties do not want to see any sort of peace deal. By allowing their tactics to throw a wrench into the negotiations, the administration ennobles their strategy. Whether in concert with or against Netanyahu’s wishes, these tactics prevent the process from going forward. As Netanyahu becomes isolated from the US and the Israeli public correctly views the US administration as a less than amicable friend, the Israeli leadership is forced to the far-right. Obama’s pushback on Netanyahu’s prior settlement plans summarily exploded in his face, making the administration look weak and unfriendly to Israel. Their knee-jerk reaction to condemn Netanyahu this time around is only furthering the perception of American ineptitude.
Likewise, the administration’s admonishment of Israel only serves to push the Palestinians away from the table. The Palestinian leadership now has little incentive to negotiate. Instead, it can sit on the sidelines and watch the Israeli-American slugfest. Already, the Palestinian Authority has claimed that this round of negotiations have failed. Rather than being forced by the US to hold indirect talks with the Israelis, the Palestinians have gained a new level of confidence that they do not need to pursue a path to peace. They will be able to step back to their continued path of low-level violence with impunity. This is particularly true given the lack of condemnation by the US administration of the recent naming of a Palestinian West Bank square in honor of a suicide bomber and terrorist who killed 38 people.
The administration’s rush to criticize Israel has only added fuel to the fire. While the Interior Ministry’s announcement was ill-timed and possibly meant to incite the process, it does not justify such a public outcry by the US. Instead, backdoor channels should have been used not only to defuse and minimize the announcement but to assure that such problems are swiftly dealt with. Instead, the public airing of dirty laundry only hastens the failure of an already tenuous peace process.