Breakdown in Relations as Biden Visits Middle East

Friday, 12 Mar 2010 03:49 PM

By Arnaud De Borchgrave

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The anemic Middle East "peace process" is beginning to look like "The Fool's Errand," the computer game that is a meta-puzzle with a cryptic treasure map for a road that's no longer on the map for the benefit of a wandering fool who seeks his fortune in the mysterious and magical land of Tarot.

U.S. President Barack Obama's recent tarot card reading showed a trip by Vice President Joe Biden to the land of Greater Israel. Obama's instruction to Biden: convince Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the time is at hand to begin shrinking greater Israel back to its pre-1967 Six Day War frontiers (with a few minor adjustments in Israel's favor).

What neither Obama nor Biden seemed to realize was that Netanyahu, his government and his supporters, both in Israel and the United States, were deeply aggrieved when the U.S. president went to Cairo last June 4 for an address to the Muslim world without stopping in Israel on the way home. Or, what would have been even worse, on the way to Cairo.

That such a visit would have wrecked the purpose of turning a new page in America's relations with Islam did not seem to occur to Netanyahu's conservative backers. And revenge was not long in coming.

Obama's background, his middle name Hussein, his Muslim father and Muslim stepfather, and his associations with Arabs and Muslims have made the 44th president of the United States an object of derision and contempt among many Jews. They have assumed since day one, correctly, he wanted Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem dismantled to make room for what Bush 43 called "a contiguous and viable Palestinian state."

No sooner did Joe Biden land in Israel than he was greeted by the news Israeli authorities had pre-empted his mission. They chose his arrival to announce authorization of the construction of 1,600 Jewish settlement homes in East Jerusalem. Biden kept Netanyahu waiting 90 minutes for dinner. He was on the secure line to national security adviser James L. Jones, well past midnight in Washington.

The prime minister had prepared a gift for Biden. A framed document certified that several trees were planted in Jerusalem in memory of the vice president's mother, a strong supporter of Israel. Netanyahu inadvertently leaned on the glass frame and broke it.

"I have one thing to offer you right now and it's broken glass," said Netanyahu trying a lame crack to link the miscue to the Jerusalem settlement decision.

The dinner was stiff and awkward. But the next day, before Tel Aviv University students, Biden reminded Israel it can't remain both a Jewish and democratic state as long as it continues its settlement colonization of the West Bank — "the status quo is not sustainable."

Inconceivable, on the other hand, is repatriation of 300,000 Jewish settlers from the West Bank and 200,000 from East Jerusalem to make way for what is almost bound to be a militant Palestinian state.

No sooner in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital in the West Bank, than Biden lambasted the Israeli decision as "undermining the trust we need to begin as well as produce profitable negotiations." To end this historic conflict, he said, "both sides must be historically bold."

Biden once said, "If I were a Jew, I'd be a Zionist." This time he waxed lyrical on his personal devotion to Israel and reassured Israelis about the Obama administration's "ironclad commitment to Israel's security."

That's all Netanyahu needed to hear; Jewish construction in East Jerusalem is not a game changer.

For the Israeli government, the "proximity" talks, with mediator George Mitchell shuttling between the two sides, can only discuss agenda minutiae for future face-to-face talks. For the Palestinians, proximity palavers are a waste of time unless the Israelis agree to talk turkey about final frontiers, the return of some Palestinian refugees to Israel proper, compensation for the others and the status of East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has made clear no more concessions. At the same time, Israel's interior minister authorized a march in East Jerusalem, led by right-wing hard-liners Baruch Mazel and Itmar Ben-Gvir, to protest "illegal Palestinian construction."

As Biden headed home, Haaretz front-paged a new Israeli plan for not 1,600, but 50,000 Jewish residential units in East Jerusalem. The international community, including the United States does not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv.

This, in turn, is incentivizing the moderate Palestinian Authority and Hamas to bury their differences and form a future common front. At the present rate of geopolitical myopia, another intifada lies just over the horizon.

Some Israelis believe Iran, not the illusive search for a Palestinian state, is where the focus should be. If tougher sanctions against Iran's nuclear ambitions don't produce fundamental change in Tehran, Israeli airstrikes may be next on the regional menu and the Palestinian problem will dwarf into insignificance — for a while.

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