Netanyahu faces a U.S. adamant about East Jerusalem

March 25, 2010

By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent

Throughout the latest crisis between Israel and the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that no previous Israeli government has frozen construction in East Jerusalem has been repeatedly mentioned. Netanyahu and his associates claim that the Obama administration has been pressuring Israel over East Jerusalem building, unlike previous American administrations.

Netanyahu is right. There was never any real pressure – but the American demand in principle to cease construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is long-standing. In fact, all American governments have made the same demand of all Israeli governments, apart from on one occasion: The letter of understanding penned by former U.S. president George W. Bush that recognizes the principle of settlement blocs.

Now, the U.S. is finally putting this demand into effect. Moreover, Netanyahu must also recognize the changing reality on the Palestinian side. Until 2004, the Palestinian Authority was led by Yasser Arafat, who was perceived by the Americans and Europeans as a terrorist. Now, the Palestinian leaders are viewed in Washington and within the EU as true partners in the peace process and in the effort to create a Palestinian state. It is Israel’s leaders – specifically Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Likud Minister Benny Begin and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon – who are far from being perceived in that way. In the past, the U.S. saw settlement construction as a “stick” used to deter Palestinian terror, but today it is viewed as an obstacle.

How could Netanyahu have safeguarded the construction in East Jerusalem? By offering something in return. Past Israeli governments have indicated their intent to build in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, but they simultaneously gave the U.S. a political strategy to present to the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s government is backtracking on all fronts and offering nothing to the Americans or the Palestinians.

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