Bad Faith in the Holy City

How Israel’s Jerusalem Policy Imperils the Peace Process

The Israeli government’s announcement in March that it would further expand East Jerusalem settlements was just the latest in a decades-old series of calculated slights to the United States.

Since 1967, virtually every time a U.S. envoy has arrived to discuss the fate of the West Bank or Gaza, the Israeli government of the day has bluntly shown who is really boss, usually with a carefully timed unilateral expansion of Israel’s presence in the occupied territories. Since the 1970s, Israel has illegally settled close to half a million of its citizens in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, not to mention building a barrier mainly inside the West Bank on Arab-owned land that is longer and taller than the Berlin Wall.

Given that for a year the Obama administration has sought a settlement freeze in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, it is impossible to interpret the latest announcement of settlement expansion in the city as anything but a provocation. (The alternative explanation -- that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot control his own government -- cannot be taken seriously.) As if on cue, an obedient majority in Congress issued a letter demanding that there be no public discussion of U.S.-Israeli differences. This, however, has not ended the controversy.

Although this episode has revealed that some things never change, it has been unusual in the sense that U.S. administrations usually take great care to avoid offending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (known as AIPAC). Yet, this year, senior officials suggested that unconditional U.S. support for Israel, far from serving U.S. national interests, may in fact jeopardize them. The Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot reported that Vice President Joe Biden said as much to Netanyahu in March; the message was reiterated in a statement by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in the congressional testimony of the head of the United States Central Command, General David Petraeus, who argued that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region].”

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