Opinion and Editorial

Clinton Rebukes Israel

Filed on March 14, 2010

A 43-minute telephone call from the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made headlines. Given the recent upsets caused by the Israeli decision to build hundreds of new settlement homes in East Jerusalem, the call is particularly significant.

The purpose of the call was clearly to rebuke Israel over its defiant posturing that has effectively derailed US efforts for indirect “proximity” talks with the Palestinians. Despite Netanyahu issuing a forced apology over the recent decision to build new settlements, Washington is visibly irked. Clinton’s call has conveyed that, aptly. How Israel responds remains to be seen for Washington has urged it to prove its words that have, to date, only contradicted its purported intent.

The recent development had ensued during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and West Bank. The State Department has relayed the contents of Clinton’s conversation that noted Israel’s announcement as a “deeply negative signal”, one that was “contrary to the spirit of the vice-president’s trip”. While questioning such a move when US stands by its security commitment to Israel, Clinton may have overlooked one important fact. Israel, even while being reprimanded—which is itself a rare occurrence—receives a simultaneous pat on its back from its staunchest ally, the US. This is what happened with Biden who was quick to add that one significant line of US being Israel’s greatest friend in the same breath as issuing a critique over the new settlements. Maybe Biden was only reassuring Tel Aviv even while pushing it to the negotiation table. What the US needs to realise is that its “reassurances” are being entirely misinterpreted in Israel. In fact, they are being twisted for leverage by the Israeli government to pursue a policy of open confrontation in defiance of all international norms.

The settlement issue has become the bone of contention in starting dialogue between the two sides. In order to cross the hurdles posed by the settlements, Washington had been working behind the scenes in persuading Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to agree to indirect talks. A face-saver for Abbas, since the Palestinian Authority had refused to enter direct talks with Israel unless it agreed to a complete freeze on settlements. Now faced with the prospect of wasting its only chance of starting dialogue, albeit indirect and time-bound (a four-month time frame was decided by the Arab League), the US administration has reacted as it should have. Its own blue-eyed boy in the Middle East that continues to enjoy complete carte blanche has inadvertently cornered it.

A lot is at risk and the sooner Washington realises the implications of its reticent policy towards Israeli aggression, the better it will be for regional stability.

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