Within minutes of posting my last blog on the relatively mild U.S. response to the latest diplomatic flap over an East Jerusalem building project I started getting urgent messages from The Israel Project on the issue, and a few minutes ago I got one of those irritating robo-calls from Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the group’s founder and president, warning of a “showdown” between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
What gives? I didn’t see much of a diplomatic flap this morning, but I’ve also learned that Mizrahi is sometimes ahead of the curve in sensing new U.S.-Israel friction and in acting preemptively.
I consulted a pro-Israel veteran on the dovish side of the spectrum who offered this analysis: this crisis could be different that past diplomatic dustups over East Jerusalem building projects, mostly because of Netanyahu’s fast and strong response to the initial pro-forma U.S. criticism.
Netanyahu, this pro-Israel veteran said, made the clearest statement yet that building in East Jerusalem is none of Washington’s business, saying "Israel does not see any connection between the peace process and the policy of planning and construction in Jerusalem.”
That was “a real snub” that cut to the heart of American demands that Israel and the Palestinians take steps to improve the climate for their stalled negotiations.
And Netanyahu didn’t try to pass it off as a strictly local decision made without his government’s involvement, this observer told me.
Sure enough, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to Netanyahu this afternoon, saying that "There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent on both parties, as we’ve insisted all along, that they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation. To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect."
That’s more than a few degrees hotter than the earlier claim that the new housing project is "unhelpful."
Mizrahi, this activist said, is “acting preemptively” in a situation that seems to be escalating rapidly.
Doing due diligence, I consulted with another prominent activist on the other side of the political divide who told me the real source of administration ire was Netanyahu’s promise last March not to surprise the administration with such developments – a promise officials here now feel was broken.
And administration. officials may be “more annoyed because they thought they were saying something pareve and Bibi escalated with his reply.”
I’m wondering if Netanyahu is testing a president chastened in last week’s big GOP electoral victory to see if his red lines have changed since the electoral upheaval. The next day or two should offer some answers.