[tweetmeme] Only hours before the US VP Joe Biden was to arrive in Israel, the Israeli government has approved plans to construct 112 new homes in occupied West Bank. The announcement comes despite the declaration by Israeli PM Netanyahu last year of a 10 month moratorium on settlement construction. The timing of the announcement is high provocative. As the occupying IDF is still dealing with the fallout that occurred after Israel named the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s tomb to list of Israeli national heritage sites.
The announcement, as I mentioned, came hours before Biden was supposed to land in Israel as the senior-most official to visit Israel under Obama. The US, like the rest of the international community is opposed to further settlement construction by Israel and views the settlements as a major obstacle to peace. By preempting Biden’s visit with plans to break the limited settlement freeze, Israel seems to be daring the Obama Administration to condemn the move – particularly after Obama said that he would hold the Israelis or Palestinians accountable for holding up negotiations.
Making the announcement even more provocative is that it came one day after the Palestinians hesitantly agreed to a four-month round of US brokered indirect negotiations. The Palestinians agreed to indirect negotiations, but warned that they would not succeed if Israel continued its settlement policy:
The Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now slammed the new project, saying it would “widen the gap with the Palestinians and the two-state solution, which risks becoming obsolete.”
The new project came to light a day after the Palestinians grudgingly agreed to four months of indirect peace negotiations with Israel but warned that the US-brokered process would collapse if it continued expanding settlements.
It also came as Biden was to make his first visit to the region since assuming office. George Mitchell, the US Middle East envoy, is also in the region on the latest of several visits to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The Palestinians insist they will only return to direct talks if Israel agrees to a complete freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
You really need to wonder what the logic of this announcement is. Not only is Israel showing up Biden, but they are also dooming the indirect talks to failure and showing up Mahmoud Abbas. All said, the announcement is antagonistic and bordering on lunacy. It will be interesting to see what the US response is. More to come as this develops.