US Vice President Joe Biden left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "hanging" for no less than an hour and a half, as the latter, along with his wife Sara, were waiting for him at the dinner table.
The sole explanation for such extreme tardiness in American diplomacy is that it was an expression of discontent over the Ministry of Interior's approval of 1,600 new housing units in disputed east Jerusalem earlier Tuesday – and the harsh condemnation that followed.
The embarrassment proved even bigger, as the prime minister was not informed of the decision. Ynet learned Tuesday evening that although Interior Minister Eli Yishai's claimed the decision's timing was coincidental, Netanyahu requested to be informed about construction permits in Jerusalem and the West Bank on several occasions in the past.
Despite Netanyahu's repeated requests, he was not updated vis-à-vis the latest plan, and the government was unable to avoid a last minute rift with the Palestinian Authority, just before renewing negotiations.
After several past incidents relating to construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the prime minister instructed the ministers supervising construction in "sensitive areas" to remain alert and avoid political embarrassments that could severely damage future relations with the US and the Palestinians.
Biden (L) and Netanyahu at dinner Tuesday (Photo: Flash 90)
Netanyahu asked Yishai and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias to be involved in decision making, in order to prevent "surprises".
The prime minister assured the US vice president that the timing was coincidental, and was not meant to impede the political process with the Palestinians. "The prime minister is not ashamed of the construction in Jerusalem," said a source close to Netanyahu,
"However, he certainly is not interested in creating a political debacle. It is important to create a good atmosphere, and avoid disagreements with Washington – especially during the vice president's important visit."
Senior cabinet ministers said on Tuesday that they were uncertain whether the step was a mistake on the part of the Interior Ministry or an intentional move. "If it was intentional, this is very serious," said one Labor minister.
Minister Isaac Herzog said, "This is a serious failure. Netanyahu must make sure it is not repeated. It is not clear who is responsible for this, but what is certain is that this will cause harm to anyone seeking the peace process."
Elements in the political establishment criticized Netanyahu's conduct and one source said, "If Netanyahu and his ministers don't know about their ministries, this is a joke. Time after time scandals occur that harm the State. This should raise questions as to Netanyahu's conduct and his ability to control the ministers and the government."
MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said, "It seems the Netanyahu government has its sights set on getting Israel in trouble with one of our biggest friends in the world. Humiliating the vice president of the US, Joe Bidden, is far worse than the humiliation of the Turkish ambassador by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
"They humiliated the Turkish ambassador with a low chair, but the US vice president they humiliated with 1,600 housing units. Netanyahu runs the government amateurishly, in a way that is reminiscent of the way a Likud branch is run in some godforsaken town."
Associates of Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized the approval of the housing plan, saying its timing "damages the negotiations with the Palestinians."
The sources said in a statement, "Israel has been working for several months now to build trust between the sides in order to begin negotiations, and our practical steps must take this into account."
Roni Sofer and Amnon Meranda contributed to this report