Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Netanyahu and Biden Talk Again, But the Damage Has Already Been Done

As reported by Haaretz:Netanyahu and Biden spoke yesterday in order to bring some sense of normalcy back to the relationship between Israel and the U.S.:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke on the phone Tuesday night in a bid to ease tensions between the U.S. and Israel over a plan to construct 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem.

The New York Times also said that the American administration had confirmed the conversation. The Prime Minister's Bureau did not elaborate on the details of the conversation, which lasted until 2 A.M. Netanyahu's advisers Yitzhak Molcho and Ron Dermer, along with Israeli envoy to the U.S. Michael Oren, were also present.

As Ben Smith writes in Politico: The intensity of the U.S. response to an Israeli housing announcement raised high expectations for the Israeli reaction: You can't just "affront" and "insult" your most important patron, and then expect it to go away, right? Those words are about respect and public shows of strength, not about issue positions.

We've now passed the point at which many on the U.S. side expected Prime Minister Netanyahu to eat crow, kill the new housing, and make some other unspecified concessions -- and to lose face in the heat of American anger.

But instead,both sides are dialing it down. The Americans have stopped repeating their outrage. Congressional voices are calling on both sides to chill out, with the most senior yet, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman blaming the flap on the Israelis but also, notably, pushing the White House "to disentangle bilateral relations from the peace process."

And if Netanyahu doesn't wind up losing face, doesn't Obama? What was intended as a show of strength risks, without results, turning into a show of impotence.