Israel's choices: The nation stirs anxieties for two close friends
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The policies of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on two items -- settler housing in East Jerusalem and an overseas assassination -- has put the country at odds with two of its strongest allies, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Netanyahu's statement during his visit this week to Washington in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is, of course, strictly his version of its status. Israel took East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war, an action comparable to Iraq's taking of Kuwait in 1990. The United States considers Tel Aviv the capital of Israel and maintains its embassy there, whatever Mr. Netanyahu may claim.
East Jerusalem, where the Israeli government announced it was going to build 1,600 new housing units just as Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the country for a visit, is considered by the United States to be occupied territory. Israel's intention to build more settler apartments at Jerusalem's historic Shepherd Hotel falls in the same category of Israeli expansion onto land that would, if negotiations succeeded, likely be part of the capital of a new Palestinian state.
Mr. Netanyahu's refusal to retract his government's statement of intention to construct the new housing was met during his visit by critical statements from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and what appears to have been an unfruitful, closed meeting with President Barack Obama. The impending peace talks, of course, are dead for the moment.
Mr. Netanyahu's government poisoned the well with the United Kingdom, normally another friend of Israel's, by its intelligence service's likely use of altered British passports to obtain entry to Dubai for assassins who killed Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh there in January. In return, the British are expelling an officer of the Israeli Embassy in London who is believed to be the station chief of its intelligence service, Mossad, although neither country has given the name or position. The Israelis also apparently used passports of Australia, France, Germany and Ireland for the same purpose, angering those countries as well.
It is hard to see any useful purpose served in the crucial quest for Middle East peace by these actions on Israel's part, unless Mr. Netanyahu is seeking to develop a "hard right-winger who then made peace" image. But that would be difficult casting.
First Published March 27, 2010 12:00 am