On Monday, the day Vice-President Joe Biden was to arrive in Israel, the Israeli government announced approval for 112 new homes in Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, despite having agreed in November to curb settlement growth in partial fulfillment of Israel’s obligations under the Bush administration road map.
I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. 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. We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai apologized on Wednesday “for causing domestic and international distress” with the timing of the announcement, and Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly told Biden, “No one was seeking to embarrass you or undermine your visit — on the contrary, you are a true friend to Israel.” But Meir Margalit, a member of Jerusalem’s City Council told Israel’s Ynet News that the ministry “meant to sabotage the announcement that Netanyahu issued today regarding the renewal of indirect negotiations with the Palestinians. It is also a kind of slap in the face of the American administration.”
Despite Netanyahu’s apology, his position in favor of settlement expansion is clear. As Max Blumenthal reports, “a day before Biden’s arrival, Netanyahu appeared onstage with Pastor John Hagee in Jerusalem.” Hagee is a radical American cleric who opposes the two-state solution and supports unlimited Israeli settlement expansion with millions of American dollars. “If America puts pressure on Israel to divide Jerusalem we are following the blueprint of the Prince of Darkness,” Hagee has said. “Amos 3:2 states that any nation that divides the Land of Israel will come under the severe judgment of God.”
Hagee’s views are 180 degrees opposite of the goals of the United States and the international community to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu’s appearing onstage with Hagee is a strong indication that his stated support for the creation of a Palestinian state is less than genuine.