What a surprise. Vice President Biden is in Israel and, right in front of him, the Israeli government announces 1,600 new settler housing units.
Biden is in Israel to kick off indirect negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Of course, as the Washington Post pointed out in an editorial today, this could be seen as "a step backward...since the two sides have been talking directly to each other, off and on since 1991."
The Post notes that the Palestinians have recently "resisted direct negotiations partly out of the conviction that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is intransigent. And Mr. Netanyahu regularly offers evidence that this is so."
The same piece recalls that Netanyahu recently "appeared too rule out Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley [the part of the West Bank adjacent to Jordan, and furthest from Israel] which previous Israeli governments have conceded to a future Palestinian state, and he allowed new Jewish settlement construction to proceed in the West Bank despite the 'freeze' he announced several months ago." He also has ruled out yielding any part of Jerusalem (a municipality Israel unilaterally expanded to three times it original size) and has even pledged to hold on to Ariel, a city of 20,000 smack dab in the middle of the West Bank.
Consider this. Pre-'67 Israel (that is without the territories occupied during the June 1967 war) constitutes 78% of historic Palestine. The West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, which Palestinians insist must be their Palestinian state, equals 22% of historic Palestine. So every settlement built -- and every town declared not negotiable -- comes out of the 22%. In fact, when it is claimed that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat 90% or 95% of the territories, we are talking about 90% or 95% of the 22%.
Bottom line: there is very little left of Arab Palestine to negotiate over. And every time the United States winks when another settlement is announced, there is even less.
That is why this particular statement by Biden today is troubling. While ignoring the latest provocation, he praised Netanyahu for already haven "taken significant steps including the moratorium that has limited new settlement construction activity. And you [Netanyahu] have significantly increased freedom of movement across the West Bank.... It's easy to point fingers, particularly in this part of the world, at what each side has not done. But it's also important to give credit where things have been done in order to be able to move forward. Mr. Prime Minister, the United States will always stand with those who take risks for peace. And you're prepared to do that. "
Maybe. But so far Netanyahu has been, to use the Post's label, "intransigent." And that is putting it nicely. Hopefully this administration won't make the blunder Bush #43 did when he called former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a "peacemaker."
But hope springs eternal. And maybe Netanyahu will come around. But, at this point, Biden's take is somewhere over the rainbow. Way up high.
UPDATE: Biden has struck back.