Predictably, the recent Israeli announcements about new construction in Har Homa in Jerusalem and the West Bank drew sharp criticism from the Palestinians and the Obama administration.
The common theme was that such actions were impediments to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians leading to a settlement of their longstanding dispute.
From the Palestinians, who can be expected to try to milk every situation, this is not surprising. The fact that they are insisting – thanks to President Obama – on an announced complete construction freeze and Israeli acceptance of pre-1967 lines as preconditions for any resumption of talks was to be expected, if not welcomed.
But what of the Obama administration which is supposed to be an honest broker?
As we point out in our second editorial this week, the Palestinian Authority is underwriting, if not fostering, Palestinian terror against Jews. It has also plainly accepted as a given the continued viability of Hamas as an element in any agreement despite the requirement of the so-called road map that the PA must dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. And of course until President Obama mentioned his support for it, the Palestinians never insisted on a freeze as such a big deal. Moreover, the almost year-long construction freeze declared by Israel – which the PA had not even insisted on until Mr. Obama made it an issue – never drew a reciprocal gesture from the Palestinians.
To be sure, the U.S. reaction to the construction announcements was relatively muted. A comment by a State Department spokesman on the Ariel approvals was revealing: “These kinds of actions are counterproductive to the resumption of direct negotiations. We have raised this issue with the Israeli government. We will continue to make our position known.”
The State Department’s statement on the issuance of housing permits in East Jerusalem was similarly low key:
The United States is deeply concerned by continuing Israeli actions with respect to housing construction in Jerusalem. We have raised this issue with the Israeli government and continue to make our position known. As we have said before, unilateral actions work against efforts to resume direct negotiations and contradict the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties, We believe that through good faith direct negotiations, the parties should agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its unique religious status for people around the world.
No fire and brimstone, though we duly note the reference to a deal that “realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem.” What was needed was a clear statement from the U.S. that the Palestinians need to be more forthcoming and stop pursuing their unilateral September UN recognition ploy in place of substantive negotiations.