Rhetoric cools, issue does not

Rhetoric cools, issue does not

After a week of tense exchanges between U.S. and Israeli officials, both sides appear to be pulling back from the brink. But that doesn’t mean the issue that sparked this confrontation — new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem — is resolved. It isn’t.
On Tuesday, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, denied ever saying that relations between the two countries were at a 35-year-low. He claimed he was “flagrantly misquoted.”
U.S. officials were no less adamant about their remarks, denying an account in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot last week that Vice President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel was endangering the lives of American troops in the region with its housing policy.
Israel did embarrass Biden during last week’s visit to the region by announcing that it was building 1,600 housing units in eastern Jerusalem. That’s for sure, and the interior minister, who made the announcement while Biden was in the country, ought to be fired.
But the White House cleverly used the incident to demand Israel meet certain conditions it wants, including a rescinding of the housing announcement, making a significant gesture to the Palestinian Authority such as a prisoner release, and promising to address the stickiest of issues in upcoming peace talks — Jerusalem, final borders, refugees.
Israel could hardly meet those conditions, not now anyway. Terrorist groups would see such acquiescence as a sign of weakness and become even more emboldened.
But the Obama administration wasn’t the only slighted party. U.S. officials were virtually silent that same week as Palestinian Authority dedicated a public square in Ramallah to a terrorist who killed 37 Israelis, including 12 children, in a 1978 bus hijacking. They were almost equally passive when Palestinians hypocritically claimed that Monday’s rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem — twice destroyed in Arab attacks over the years — was actually a precursor for attacks on Muslim holy sites. (The State Department did eventually issue a half-hearted criticism of that claim.)
The bottom line is Biden wasn’t the only embarrassed party here. The U.S. administration needs to re-examine its own statements, or lack thereof.
These are clearly acts of incitement by Fatah.
Until that happens, both sides believe they have unresolved issues. They may be toning down the war of words, but it’s only a cease-fire, not an armistice.