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15 March 2010

Post-Biden spat: what the Israeli papers say

Netanyahu is "zigzagging like a drunken driver".

By Ian K Smith

The fallout continues from the diplomatic nightmare that was the visit to Israel by the US vice-president, Joe Biden, during which the interior ministry announced plans for 1,600 homes on occupied land in East Jerusalem.

Today Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, said that relations between the countries are “facing the most severe crisis since 1975”.

At the Jerusalem Post, the editor-in-chief, David Horovitz, finds it hard to “reconcile the bitter, accusatory, public dressing-down” with the “insistent” US assurance on Israeli security.

It’s not easy, no matter how persuasively it can be argued that Netanyahu brought this on himself.

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Barry Rubin, writing yesterday, wondered what the “fuss” was about, arguing that the area in question is “not some new settlement but a neighborhood about five blocks from the pre-1967 border”.

The action, if not the timing, was neither a provocation, the establishment of a “new settlement” nor proof that Israel doesn’t want peace.

At Hareetz, an editorial calls for an end to the “lunacy” that has put US-Israel relations on a “collision course”, arguing that “the government headed by Netanyahu is now emerging as a strategic threat”. Yesterday, editor-at-large Aluf Benn argued that the Israeli PM faces a choice:

The prime minister has reached the moment of truth, where he must choose between his ideological beliefs and political co-operation with the right on the one hand, and his need for American support on the other.

At Ynet news, Moshe Dann called the diplomatic crisis a “blessing in disguise”:

Supporters of Israel should rejoice that Biden and [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton have emerged from Obama’s closet hatred of Israel.

Anat Gov, also at Ynet, finds himself pining for the “old Bibi” (Netanyahu) who would make “make (bad) decisions quickly and decisively”, rather than the “new Bibi”, “zigzagging like a drunken driver”.

In the run-up to next week’s Aipac annual policy conference, where both Netanyahu and Clinton are scheduled to speak, it is unclear who will blink first in the diplomatic stand-off. It may be that the Obama administration is reacting to domestic pressure on health-care reform, or seeking to lower expectations or shift the blame for an ill-fated peace process.

Regardless, Tel Aviv and Washington stand united on the most pressing regional concern, Iran. As David Miliband seeks to win China’s support for sanctions, it seems inevitable that hard words on Iran will drown out the recriminations over Palestine.