What is it about Joe Biden and East Jerusalem housing announcements?
The Israelis did it again on the eve of the Vice-President’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the results were as predictable as a Three Stooges script: the Israelis announced plans for more than 1300 new apartments (the bonk on Biden’s head), the State Department reflexively emitted a shopworn protest (the poke in the eye), commentators commented (picture Curly woob-woob-woobing) and then everybody went about their business.
State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, repeating lines he must have memorized by now, said the administration is “deeply disappointed by the announcement of advanced planning for new housing units in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem” and called the plan “counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties."
President Obama called the Israeli move "unhelpful." Ouch; I bet the folks in Jerusalem are shaking in their boots at that.
You can tell how seriously everybody took this by the response from activist groups – which was, essentially, nothing. No protests about the U.S. protest from the right, no somber expressions of concern from the mainstream pro-Israel groups, no whining about the new construction by groups on the left and Palestinian supporters. The only statement that came over my electronic transom: J Street said it is "profoundly disappointed" by the announcement.
It’s not hard to figure out why: by now this has the feel of empty political and diplomatic ritual: Israel announces Washington protests, activists fret – and then nothing happens.
What all this reveals: nobody in Washington really sees much hope for moving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks forward. So they’re going through the motions of protesting, but they’re not going to lose any sleep over it and they’re not going to risk a spat with powerful Jewish groups.