Much of Israel’s activity in recent weeks has drawn serious condemnation by continuing to display what the United Nations and many other countries may consider antagonistic and irresponsible behaviors in the face of suffering U.S. relations and growing international frustration. The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee recently approved the construction of another 500 apartments in east Jerusalem after a hasty meeting organized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, suggesting that the prime minister’s motives, whatever they may be, are a long way from the “two-state solution” that he has promised to pursue. The move to push ahead with the construction plans have drawn some of the heaviest criticism Israel has ever received from the United States, its long-standing ally and most powerful protectorate.
The White House was quick to condemn the move to further expand Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez made the U.S. position very clear when he branded the expansion as “illegitimate” only hours after the construction of the 500 new apartments was approved. These events unfolded only days after diplomatic relations between the White House and Prime Minister Netanyahu took an ill turn when it became well-known that a senior administration official referred to Netanyahu by his nickname, “Bibi,” and essentially branded him a coward.
Not only have the plans drawn criticism from the U.S. but also the EU, which has been increasing international pressure on a daily basis for Netanyahu to cease the expansion of Jewish settlements and make a serious effort at pursuing peace negotiations. Last week, Sweden became the first major European country to recognize the State of Palestine.
While relations between the U.S. and Israel have always risen and fallen over the years, Israel has nonetheless continued to enjoy America’s unquestioned support at the U.N. and has received over $100 billion of U.S. military aid. The U.S. has previously vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions in favor of Israel and has a long habit of choosing to quietly overlook antagonistic actions, such as the expansion of Jewish settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The most recent bickering between Netanyahu and the White House may very quickly escalate into something far more serious. Relations between the two have further suffered from another international issue that has received much less media attention in recent weeks after the escalation of rioting and violence in Jerusalem – the current negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the fast-approaching November 24 deadline. Netanyahu has made it clear that any nuclear deal reached between Iran and the higher powers will not sit well with Israel, but negotiations are only increasing in intensity as the deadline draws closer, suggesting to Netanyahu that a deal will definitely be reached in some form and will be supported by the U.S. regardless of Israel’s concerns.
As things continue to escalate in Jerusalem and the Iran nuclear talks gather momentum, the dynamic of the Israel/U.S. relationship is quickly changing. In response to the Iran negotiations and U.S. condemnation, Netanyahu reportedly stated that he has “written off” the Obama administration and the White House along with it. The White House, in return, has expressed its “red hot anger” at Netanyahu, who they believe has effectively destroyed Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace solutions with his continued settlement policies in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The strongest evidence that the relationship between Israel and the White House may be in for a dramatic turn is the way that one senior official so carelessly labeled Netanyahu as cowardly and stated that he was “scared to launch wars,” suggesting that the Obama administration is no longer afraid of possible Israeli military action in the aftermath of any nuclear agreement in Iran.
The belief that Netanyahu no longer constitutes a threat may also lead the White House to pursue a peace deal between Israel and Palestine with a much greater intensity than it has before. U.S. President Barack Obama has already threatened that the U.S. may no longer exercise its right to veto policies directed at Israel if they reach the U.N. Security Council. While it remains too soon to tell if this threat will be acted upon, it does suggest that even if the U.S. chooses to veto Palestine’s possible attempt at seeking full United Nation’s recognition next year, it may do so with the intention of crafting a definitive anti-settlement resolution that could be implemented instead.
In either case, there is little doubt that relations between Netanyahu and the White House have reached an all-time low. The U.S. in particular appears truly frustrated with Israel’s continued settlement and construction plans, which have also drawn international condemnation and suggest to all that Netanyahu really has no interest in pursuing peace. With the deadline for the Iran deal fast approaching and Netanyahu offering no hint of slowing down his continued antagonistic settlement plans in Jerusalem, the quickly deteriorating relationship between Israel and the U.S. may only suffer more in the coming months.
Opinion by Mathew Channer