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US Suggests Building Tenders Timed to Embarrass Netanyahu

Statement in Jerusalem on new housing units while Netanyahu meets with Biden may be aimed at “embarrassing” the Prime Minister, the US suggested.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 11/9/2010, 2:52 PM / Last Update: 11/9/2010, 3:03 PM

Announcements from the municipality of Jerusalem on new housing units while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden may be aimed at “embarrassing” the Prime Minister, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley suggested Monday.

For the second time this year, Jerusalem officials announcement a new stage for previously planned building units in areas of the capital not recognized by the United States as under Israeli sovereignty – at the same time the vice president and Prime Minister Netanyahu were meeting. Last spring, publication of the advancement of the bureaucratic process for 1,600 new units, while the Prime Minister was welcoming Biden in the country, set off a literal freeze in relations with U.S. President Barack Obama.

The same thing happened Monday on American turf, where Biden welcomed the Prime Minister in New Orleans. The coincidence did not pass the eyes of reporters in Washington, one of whom commented at a State Department daily briefing, “There is a pattern here.”

State Department spokesman Crowley responded, after admitting that the announcements are part of a bureaucratic process, stated, “It could very well be that somebody in Israel has made this known in order to embarrass the prime minister and to undermine the process… This is not the first time we have experienced a situation where one element of the government or a government may not know what is happening in a different bureau, a different agency, or a different level of government.”

Pressed by reporters on whether Prime Minister Netanyahu was aware that the announcement was imminent. Crowley added, “I’m sure the Secretary [U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] will be clarifying exactly what happened in this case.”

She is expected to bring up the matter with Prime Minister Netanyahu when they meet later in the week in New York City.

Journalists displayed a not uncommon lack of knowledge of the government process in Israel, suggesting to Crowley that Prime Minister Netanyahu could “reverse this decision.” The “decision” actually was a stage of the usually lengthy process until building projects pass through several phases of approval for various permits until construction actually begins.

Nevertheless, European Union police chief Catherine Ashton is made exactly the same demand Tuesday, issuing a statement that the building “contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed.”The latest flap is over 1,300 new units in the Har Homa neighborhood in southern Jerusalem, where no Arab villages are located in the immediate area and which gives Israel a larger presence directly north of Bethlehem.

The new public notice of the building project gave joy to nationalists, who have warned that all previous concessions to the Palestinian Authority, including the expired 10-month building freeze on new homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria, have served the Arab cause while weakening Israel.

Crowley said the United States is “deeply disappointed”: by the announcement of the advancement of the plans, but PA negotiator Saeb Erekat used stronger language. He accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of trying to “destroy” proposed Israeli-PA talks, which have been in the deep freeze for nearly two years.

Erekat said on Tuesday that the announcement should be countered by the immediately recognition of the Palestinian Authority as a new Arab country, to be located within Israel's borders.

Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to the unprecedented 10-month building freeze to meet PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s condition for resuming talks, but Abbas said the freeze was not extensive enough. It expired six weeks ago, and Israel has refused to renew it. Simultaneously, the PA has refused to honor Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request that it recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.”