Oh dear, oh dear. Oy va avoy!
Here is that nice vice-President Joe Biden arriving in Israel to try to get the annual peace talk talks about peace talk talks going again and what happens? His best pals embarrass him and themselves because Israeli politics seems incapable, sometimes, of understanding what ‘joined-up’ means.
You should probably know that since President Obama decided that the way to overcome six decades of Palestinian rejectionism was to get tough with Israel, his target for this toughness has been ‘settlements’. Stop! he says, it’s the settlements that are the reason why Palestinians won’t talk or talk about talks. Even though a settlement freeze was not a prerequisite of the many previous attempts to establish a Palestinian state (because, let’s face it, that’s what it’s really about), suddenly, with this brilliant insight, this veritable epiphany, Mr Obama gave the Palestinians, and the world’s press (including some in Israel) an excuse a) to reject and b) beat Israel over the head.
Along comes Bibi and what does he do? A 10 month moratorium on further settlement construction EXCEPT (and this is a big ‘except’) in Jerusalem (East that is as no-one cares about West). This doesn’t stop the Israelis from finding some excuses, legal or otherwise, of doing some further construction in existing ‘settlements’.
This moratorium was clearly designed as a sop to the Americans, a supplication to show good faith. It was of course (and understandably) pooh-poohed by Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President.
After much background negotiating the Palestinians at last agreed to ‘indirect’ peace talks. This means they won’t sit with the Israelis but act through an (American) intermediary. Abbas somewhat negatively said that he doubted the talks would achieve anything and should be limited to four months. I won’t discuss at this time the reasons why I don’t think Abbas wants a deal but at least he is giving the impression that he will talk to someone who will act as a carrier-pigeon to the Israelis who will then indulge in something that is called ‘shuttle diplomacy’ which has been put forward as an Olympic sport for 2016.
So what happens when Joe Biden arrives to meet his old friend Bibi? Here’s a flavour of the shmooze that went on (get the bucket ready now):
Prime Minister Netanyahu: Vice President Biden, Joe, welcome to Israel and welcome to Jerusalem. We’ve been personal friends for almost three decades. Can you believe it’s been that long?
Vice President Biden: No, you’re getting older, Bibi. I don’t know…
It get’s worse, stay with me.
Prime Minister Netanyahu: And you remain younger all the time. And in all that time you’ve been a real friend to me and a real friend to Israel and to the Jewish people and you’ve come to Israel many times since you first came here on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. But now you’re coming as the Vice President of the United States of America and this is deeply appreciated and for me deeply moving.
A tad patronizing, maybe?
I also appreciate the Administration’s effort to advance peace in the region. I know that this has been difficult and has required a great deal of patience, but I’m pleased that these efforts are beginning to bear fruit and we have to be persistent and purposeful in making sure that we get to those direct negotiations that will enable us to resolve this conflict.
I look forward to working with President Obama, and with you and your entire Administration to forge an historic peace agreement in which the permanence and legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel is recognized by our Palestinian neighbors and in which Israel’s security is guaranteed for generations to come.
I think we heard this before – Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush….
Vice President Biden: Thank you very much. Mr. Prime Minister, it’s a pleasure to be back. It’s been too long between visits here and it is true that you and I have been friends a long, long time and a matter of fact, when each of us were in the minority, occasionally I’d get a phone call at home and I’d call you as well to get a sense of what’s going on. Our friendship is real, but what’s even deeper is the relationship between the United States and Israel.
…. The relationship between Israel and the United States has been and will continue to be a centerpiece – a centerpiece of American policy and it’s been that way since Israel’s founding in 1948.
…. Bibi, you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there’s simply no space between the United States and Israel. There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security
Well I’m glad he qualified the ‘no space’ thing because there’s plenty of space from where I’m standing.
President Obama and I strongly believe that the best long-term guarantee for Israel’s security is a comprehensive Middle East peace with the Palestinians, with the Syrians, with Lebanon, and leading eventually to full and normalized relationships with the entire Arab world. It’s overwhelming in the interest of Israel, but it’s also overwhelming interest to the Arab world and it’s in our interest as well.
This is what my younger son calls ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’.
And so Mr. Prime Minister, toward that end, I’m very pleased that you and the Palestinian leadership have agreed to launch indirect talks.
This is called ‘bigging up’ in today’s parlance.
We hope that these talks will lead and they must lead eventually to negotiations and direct discussions between the parties.
Well, ‘hope’ is one of Obama’s key words and a word that almost defines Israel.
The goal is obviously to resolve the final status issues to achieve a two-state solution with Israel and a Palestine living side by side in peace and security.
Something which Bibi is not convincingly signed up to, the two-state solution, that is. Palestinians believe in a one-state solution – Palestine. To think otherwise is dangerous but Israel and the US and the world like to pretend that Abbas and co. are not like Hamas; they want a two-state solution. Yes, but only as a first step to a one-state solution.
An historic peace is going to require both parties to make some historically bold commitments.
This means Israel will have to make all the concessions and the Palestinians will reject them as not going far enough. This will be after months of tough negotiations with everyone getting very excited about a ‘peace deal’ only to end in rejection and probably more violence and Israel blamed for not agreeing to destroy itself. Been there before I believe.
You have done it before and I’m confident for real peace you would do it again.
See what I mean?
Over the last year, Mr. Prime Minister, you have taken significant steps, including the moratorium that has limited new settlement construction activity and you have significantly increased freedom of movement across the West Bank.
O-oh, he mentioned settlements – this was before the Israelis kicked him up the backside and then thumbed their nose at him.
You still got that bucket ready? Well here goes.
Prime Minister Netanyahu: I will say that agreements are dependent on the arrangements not on paper, but on the ground. Here’s a piece of paper that reflects an arrangement on the ground. We have planted a circle of trees in Jerusalem in memory of your mother; Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden because you have said many times that she was a source of immeasurable strength which I recognize in you, Joe. We planted a tree to serve as a tribute, a circle of trees next to the leaders of the nations. We have a forest of the leaders of the nations and right next to it are the trees that we have planted in memory of your mother as a tribute to her immeasurable strength and I want to offer it to you on your visit to Israel.
Vice President Biden: Well, thank you very much. If you don’t mind my saying Mr. Prime Minister, my love for your country was watered by this Irish lady who was proudest of me when I was working with and for the security of Israel, so it’s a great honor. Thank you very much.
(full text here)
And immediately after this the Jerusalem authorities announced the approval of 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem. This led to an unprecedented condemnation from Biden
The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of 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.
– he could hardly do otherwise – and the Palestinians latching on to the opportunity to threaten withdrawal from the indirect talks – maybe they’ll agree to indirect talks about indirect talks? After all, it was they who wouldn’t speak directly.
After all that schmaltz, to have it pushed in your face is unpalatable even for a philo-Israeli like Biden.
The actual truth about the approvals for more building is that a) Israel has never seen East Jerusalem as a settlement and there is no moratorium in place there b) This was a stage in a long process of approval quite separate from State politics c) Even approved, building may not start for years.
However, the timing was unforgivable and even though Bibi told Biden that he did not know, there is something rotten in this State when a municipality can cause such a diplomatic embarrassment at such an important time. Furthermore, it serves to confirm all the prejudices of those determined to undermine Israel and gives further fuel to its enemies.
When will they ever learn.