Obama’s Building Crisis: Netanyahu’s Political Boost?

As we recently suggested here, Los Angeles Times columnist Edmund Sanders writes that U.S. President Obama’s crisis over the building licensure for Ramat Shlomo could provide prime minister Netanyahu with a political boost:

By drawing a line against expansion of Israeli housing units in Jerusalem, the Obama administration is confronting a policy that enjoys a strong consensus among Israelis: the effort to ensure that the city remains united and under their control.

U.S. officials reacted with fury last week to a decision to build 1,600 housing units in an area of… East Jerusalem…

But focusing the debate on Jerusalem may actually prove to be of domestic political benefit for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…

“For Netanyahu, this is the best issue you could have given him,” said Efraim Inbar, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, who said the prime minister could emerge politically stronger by refusing American pressure to limit or temporarily delay housing construction in East Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem touches an important nerve for so many Jews that they would support the government, even in a confrontation with the U.S.,” Inbar said. “Even if it causes damage, sometimes you have to draw a red line.”

He said about 70% of Israelis support a “united Jerusalem” under Israel’s control, according to polls he has conducted.

The Jewish population of East Jerusalem has grown from almost nothing before 1967 to 200,000 today.

Netanyahu on Offense: Jerusalem Building to Continue

Israel National News provides further background on prime minister Netanyahu’s apparently firm commitment to continued building in Jerusalem:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday… went on the offense. Buoyed by virtually unanimous Cabinet support, he told Likud Knesset Members at a party meeting, “Building in Jerusalem and in all other places will continue in the same way that has been accepted in the last 42 years.”

Last week, the Prime Minister apologized to visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden over the timing of a government announcement that 1,600 new housing units will be built in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

Ramat Shlomo shares the same status as French Hill, Ramot and Gilo, totally Jewish areas that are considered to be politically “untouchable”… The neighborhood is not far from the largely Arab-populated area of Shuafat, but is surrounded on all other sides by the Jewish areas of Ramot, Ramat Eshkol and Golda Meir Blvd.

The Obama government has insisted it is not imposing terms on Israel but also has been paving the ground for Israel to stop building in the restored parts of Jerusalem until a final agreement is made with the PA. However, the Arab world has stood firm that there is no ground for negotiations and that all of its claims to the Old City, eastern, northern and southern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria must be met.

Most media have roundly criticized the Prime Minister for embarrassing Biden, although the Israeli leader insisted he had nothing to do with the timing of the announcement of new homes in Ramat Shlomo.

Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been severely criticized for over-reacting and for what appears to many as gross interference in Israeli affairs.

The key phrase here is “Buoyed by virtually unanimous Cabinet support”. Prime Minister Netanyahu is ultimately concerned about his future electoral chances, not what the US President says; this point seems to have been lost on the latter.

As long as Netanyahu’s eyes are on the local political scene he can be expected to stand firm if he has local backing. Will he have it? So far the answer seems to be yes, as even the hand-wringing, left-leaning and fiercely Democratic US Jewish establishment has been shocked by the US Administration’s blatant over-reaction. In Israel, no mainstream politician can be seen as capitulating on Jerusalem and most of the country will be behind Netanyahu on this one.

Has President Obama’s team united the Israeli and pro-Israel establishment behind Bibi just as his health care reform plan has unified the far-right, the center-right and independent voters behind the Republican party? If so, he has made a spectacular miscalculation on the Jerusalem building issue.

Why is Israel Apologizing for Jerusalem Construction?

We have to agree with Likud member of Knesset Yariv Levin who questions why is Israel apologizing for building construction in Jerusalem?

MK Yariv Levin (Likud)… expressed confusion over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology regarding construction in Jerusalem. “We have the absolute right to build anywhere in the land of Israel and especially in Jerusalem,” he said.

Netanyahu apologized to United States Vice President Joe Biden over the approval of a construction project in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem. Biden had condemned the project, saying it could undermine talks with the Palestinian Authority, which claims the land on which Ramat Shlomo is built as Arab territory.

Foreign attempts to dictate Israeli policy in Jerusalem are “blatant interference,” Levin said. “This is an internal matter, not an international matter,” he explained.

“How can it be that we need permission from the Americans every time we want to build a neighborhood or a house in Jerusalem?” Levin said. The American condemnation of Israeli plans to build in Jerusalem exposed the real problem, the problem of Israel’s willingness to accept foreign meddling in domestic affairs, he stated.

“The time has come for us to stand up for ourselves. I have no doubt that if we do so, the world will see us differently,” he said.