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).
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