Twice in the course of two weeks, Israel-US relations were strained when Israeli media published news of technical approvals granted to building projects in eastern Jerusalem – first in Ramat Shlomo, and then at the Shepherd Hotel compound. Both times, the leaks came out just as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was about to meet one of the United States' two most senior officials: Vice President Joe Biden in the first, and President Barack Obama in the second.
Some nationalist analysts think this is no coincidence and the conspiracy theories are making their rounds. One nationalist newspaper sees a collusion between Obama and Israeli opposition Leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima). Another news source blames media mogul Arnon Moses, owner of Yediot Acharonot and the Ynet news website.
Nationalist newspaper Makor Rishon's editor Amnon Lord noted in a front page article on Friday that Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Monthly, who is close to the Obama administration, hinted rather broadly that Obama was behind the very leak – regarding construction of 1,600 housing units at Ramat Shlomo – that supposedly surprised the administration and made it so angry.
“Obama is not trying to destroy America's relations with Israel; he's trying to organize Tzipi Livni's campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government,” Goldberg wrote. “The goal,” he explained, “is to force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni's centrist Kadima Party (...) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset that does not have to rely on gangsters, messianists and medievalists for votes.”
'The Prophet Yoel'
Under the headline “The Prophet Yoel [the original Hebrew form of Joel - ed.],” Lord also noted that Reshet Bet government-run radio recorded MK Yoel Hasson, a Livni confidante, predicting mysteriously one week before Biden arrived in Israel that “in the coming weeks it will become obvious just how flimsy the relations between Netanyahu, the Europeans and Americans really are.”
When asked, after the Biden flap, how he had seemed to predict that such a crisis was coming, Hasson “smiled mysteriously.”
Lord's conclusion: the affair was engineered with Kadima's help.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem city councilman Elisha Peleg suggested that Israel Security Agency (aka Shin Bet) should launch an investigation to find the individuals responsible for news of the permits making headlines when it did. “I would ask the ISA to find out who are those who believe that Palestinian interests are more important than Israeli interests,” he told IDF Radio, saying that "treason" was involved.
The Jerusalem Municipality issued a statement saying that the report regarding Shepherd Hotel was “distorted” and “is meant to stir up a provocation during Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu's visit in Washington.”
“The plan was approved in July 2009 by the local committee,” the municipality noted. “Its approval was published in the media at the time. The landowners only paid the fees on March 15, 2010, and approval was granted automatically after that.”
Likud Minister for Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan also said that Tuesday’s news was "left-wing spin." He called it “idle chatter that left-wing elements are looking to use to muddy Netanyahu's name, even at the expense of ties with the US."
Was it Noni?
News1, a Hebrew-language news website owned and operated by hard-hitting independent newsman Yoav Yitzchak, had its own theory regarding the embarrassing leaks. He noted that the Shepherd Hotel leak was first published in Ynet, and cited unnamed political sources that estimated that Arnon (Noni) Moses was trying to bring down Netanyahu's government. Moses is waging a business war against a new rival, Yisrael HaYom, which threatens his newspaper's ascendancy in the Israeli market. Yisrael HaYom is owned by Sheldon Adelson, who is considered close to Netanyahu.