Healing the Rifts


It's time to end the very public spat that is tearing at Israeli-U.S. relations. It serves neither country and threatens to derail long-term mutual interests in the Middle East.

The alarm bells are ringing in nearly every corner of the American Jewish community as the situation has escalated to crisis mode.

The Obama administration was justifiably enraged by the ill-timed announcement of a new housing project in eastern Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden's relationship-building trip to Israel last week.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly apologized and promised to investigate how it happened. By prolonging the incident, President Barack Obama is likely to lose any good will Biden's visit may have engendered among a skeptical Israeli public.

It is ironic that the crisis comes as thousands of pro-Israel supporters are about to converge in Washington for next week's annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. While the pro-Israel lobby is intent on pursuing its scheduled agenda — lobbying for Iran sanctions and U.S. foreign aid — it will be operating in the wake of escalating tensions not seen for decades.

It bears remembering that this is not the first rift to emerge between the two countries, nor is it likely to be the last.

Zalman Shoval served two stints as Israel's ambassador in Washington, and has seen this kind of thing before.

In the 1990s, a cantankerous Secretary of State James A. Baker gave his telephone number at a congressional hearing, telling Israel to call when ready for peace. Soon afterward, President George H. Bush infamously characterized himself as "one lonely little guy," standing up to "a thousand" pro-Israel lobbyists protesting his administration's decision to hold up loan guarantees to absorb Russian immigrants because of ongoing construction in the Jewish settlements.

Just this week, Shoval predicted to The Jerusalem Post that this, too, shall pass, and "pretty quickly."

While we hope he is correct, we worry about the larger implications. Neither the United States nor Israel will benefit if the Palestinians use the tensions to once again sit on the sidelines and enjoy the heat on Israel, rather than undertake the hard work required to move forward in negotiations.

It also gives ammunition to other nations that insist on linking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Iran issue.

It's all about proportionate response. It's time to get real and tackle disagreements in a way befitting allies — and not hang one out to dry. Too much is at stake to let the rift derail the critical work that needs to be done for the sake of peace and stability in the region.


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