Today’s Australian Financial Review, datelined Washington (Bloomberg, AFP) contains a remarkable claim by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu:
... Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met President Barack Obama in Washington late on Tuesday after insisting on Israel’s right to pursue housing projects in Jerusalem. The US opposes these as detrimental to peace efforts.
“This was never raised as a point of contention between us and the US” in 42 years of building in Jewish neighbourhoods of the Israeli capital, Mr Netanyahu told US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
For starters, the current controversy is not about what any single country outside Israel recognises as “the Israeli capital”, it is about the intensification of ultra-orthodox Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by the Israelis after the 1967 War, contrary to international law, and in which the Palestinians expect to establish the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
If this really has never been a bone of contention between the United States and Israel in the 42 years of the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, then that would say a lot about the supine nature of US dealings with Israel over the period. But I am inclined to doubt it. Whatever caused Bill Clinton to observe after his 1996 meeting with Netanyahu that “he thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires”, and as ardent an Israel supporter as Clinton’s Middle East Adviser Dennis Ross to observe that Netanyahu’s performance was “nearly insufferable”, it is hard to imagine that no terse words were exchanged, or that building in Jerusalem never came up.
I rather think that the claim tells us more about Mr Netanyahu. I am no more inclined to believe that the US has never raised building in East Jerusalem at any stage of the last 42 years than I am inclined to believe that Mr Netanyahu was taken by surprise, as he claims, by the announcement at the start of Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit to Israel that Israel would build another 1600 homes in East Jerusalem.