Tensions between the Obama Administration and the Israeli government have yet to quiet down after Interior Minister Eli Yishai blindsided the visiting Vice President Biden with a massive new settlement announcement, effectively ending the peace talks Biden was there to promote.
The Obama Administration condemned Israel for the move. But after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s half-hearted apology, the expected return to normalcy never came. The peace process is still dead without Israel back-tracking on the settlements, and the Likud-led government has ruled this out. Thus it remains to be seen if this will simply blow over, as so many other diplomatic slights from Israel have over the years, or if it will signal a major rift with the United States.
With the prospect of the latter growing by the day, AIPAC has publicly condemned the Obama Administration, demanding that they make a “conscious effort to move away from public demands directed at Israel.” AIPAC added in the statement that Obama should instead focus on the “urgent issue” of moving against Iran.
Yet the ramifications aren’t lost on officials in Israel, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak the latest to condemn the announcement as “unnecessary and damaging.” Netanyahu has urged everyone to “calm down,” insisting that “we know how to deal with situations like these,” but the creation of such a diplomatic row in the first place is no small concern.
To that end the increasingly fractured opposition Kadima Party is calling for a change in the ruling right, far-right coalition, offering to join if Yishai’s Shas party is ousted. Yishai is reportedly unrepentant about the Biden announcement, warning Netanyahu against his public apology.
At the end of the day, the administration’s public castigation of Israel can likely only go so far. After all, last summer’s calls for settlement freezes eventually ended with Congressional Democrats riled up and the president backing off. But private doubts about Israel’s stance is likely to linger, and seems likely to be a growing political issue for Israelis, as the ruling bloc tries to do damage control.