Netanyahu Sabotages Talks, Palestinian President Leaves, Biden Angry
March 11, 2010
(ChattahBox)—Vice President Joe Biden traveled to the Middle East this week with high expectations for a breakthrough in the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States was able to convince Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, with the support of the Arab League, to participate in U.S. monitored indirect talks. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had his own agenda. When Biden arrived in Israel on Monday, the Israeli government unexpectedly announced approval for a new settlement on the occupied West Bank. And on Tuesday, Israel’s Interior Ministry announced plans “to build 1,600 new housing units for Jews” in Arab neighborhoods across the pre-1967 border in the West Bank. Vice President Biden lambasted the Israel government for announcing the building of new housing units in East Jerusalem, on the eve of peace talks. Israel responded by apologizing for the “timing” of the announcement. Now, on Thursday, Mahmoud Abbas announced that he is withdrawing from the talks, as Israel is not negotiating in good faith. Abbas called Israel’s decision to expand settlements, “the ruining of trust.”
Biden’s strongly worded statement condemning Israel, revealed the frustration with Israel’s ambush:
“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.”
According to Think Progress, Israeli officials sought to deftly backtrack their position, but could not explain the “timing” of their announcement that they intended to defy agreements reached under the Bush administration to curb Jewish settlements:
“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.”’
Additionally, the day before Biden was to arrive in Israel, Netanyahu made an appearance in Jerusalem with Pastor John Hagee, an American religious radical who opposes the two-state solution for the Middle East. Hagee believes that dividing the State of Israel is the work of Satan:
“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.”
Meanwhile, the peace talks are over for now. Amr Moussa, the Arab League Secretary-General, told reporters in Cairo that the Palestinian President won’t participate in talks when Israel plans to go forward with additional settlements. “The talks have already stopped,” said Moussa.
On Thursday morning, Biden delivered an address at Tel Aviv University, in which he continued his pressure on Israel, while still offering support. Israel’s East Jerusalem housing plans “undermined the trust required for productive negotiations,” said Biden. In a speech that was originally scheduled as a celebration of renewed Middle East peace talks, Biden added, “Sometimes, only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.”
See Think Progress for more.