NYT: Israel's construction green light 'slap in face'
Scan of world newspapers' coverage of Israel's decision to authorize 1,600 new housing units in east Jerusalem reveal harsh criticism, amazement at diplomatic ineptness. New York Times does not spare Obama and Biden of criticism. Guardian: Apologies are weasel words
"A slap in the face" – this is the language used Thursday by the New York Times to describe the humiliation US Vice President Joe Biden endured during his visit to Israel. Israel's decision to authorize the construction of 1,600 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem was widely criticized in newspapers throughout the world, and was even labeled "a new record for diplomatic stupidity."
"The Obama administration is understandably furious. Mr. Biden was in Israel working to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The word came after he had spent the day vowing the United States’ 'absolute, total and unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security,'" said wrote the New York Times in its editorial piece.
"Aides say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was blindsided by the announcement from Israel’s Interior Ministry, led by the leader of right-wing Shas Party. But he didn’t disavow the plan. And it is hard to see the timing as anything but a slap in the face to Washington," the article continued.
However, in its article, the newspaper called upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to bow out of indirect peace talks before they have started and leveled criticism at US President Barack Obama for his bumbling diplomatic approach to the conflict: "President Obama seriously miscalculated last year when he insisted that Israel impose a full stop on all new settlement building, only to have Mr. Netanyahu refuse. The goal was — and is — just."
"But one of the basic rules of diplomacy is that American presidents never publicly insist on something they aren’t sure of getting — at least not without a backup plan," the newspaper explained.
The article also mentions the failures of Obama and his special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell to convince the Arab leadership of making any gestures towards Israel in return for the settlement freeze. According to the New York Times, Mitchell "must continue to press Israel on the settlements issue. And if Israel is to make real concessions, it will need more than gestures from the Arab states."
In conclusion, the article expresses its hope that the American administration be prepared to offer up its own solutions on borders, refugees, security, and the future of Jerusalem should the talks fail.
Embarrassment in timing, not substance
The New York Post also dedicated editorial space to Israel's recent diplomatic blunder.
"Timing, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau used to say, is the essential ingredient of politics. If so, then the Israeli government committed a boneheaded move this week -- as the opposition party put it, 'a new record for diplomatic stupidity,'" wrote the newspaper's editorial.
"Housing Minister Eli Yishai yesterday apologized for what he said was an unintentional embarrassment. No matter -- damage done… Israel has few enough friends; such an insult to its closest ally makes no sense," the article asserted.
In the British newspaper, The Guardian, known for its critical stance towards Israel, publicist Simon Tisdall wrote that "it's not the first time that Israel has stiffed Barack Obama over his attempts to kick-start Middle East peace negotiations," but said that the recent building authorization "was certainly the most brutally contemptuous rebuff so far to American peacemaking."
"It may be that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's rightwing prime minister, was unaware in advance of the provisional decision by a Jerusalem district planning committee, as he claims. But the announcement was promulgated by his interior ministry, which thereby gave it an official stamp of approval. If Netanyahu did not know, then why not?" quipped Tisdall.
He then went on to note: "Despite the evident embarrassment and considerable political damage caused by the decision, Netanyahu has so far made no move to repudiate it."
The Guardian's Tisdall said that Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Welfare Minister Herzog's damage control efforts and apologies were hard to accept, calling them "weasel words."
A similar line was adopted by The Independent, which wrote that the building confirmation exposed Israel's real positions on the peace process.
The Daily Telegraph, which has the most conservative perspective, even dedicated an editorial to the new crisis between the US and Israel. "Sometimes, it is hard for even the most ardent of Israel's friends not to feel irritated beyond measure at the activities of its government," the newspaper said.
Referring to the announcement of the east Jerusalem construction's green light, the newspaper noted that Netanyahu "said he did not know the announcement was going to be made, which may or may not be true. However, neither has he repudiated the plan to build 1,600 homes in the disputed city; his embarrassment appears to lie in the timing, not in the substance."