The Gilo expansion announcement: bungling or purposeful provocation? — UPDATED
- Novemeber 24 2009 — Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar: Netanyahu new exactly what was going on.
Last week’s US-Israeli crisis following the announcement of new construction in Gilo was analyzed by three of Israel’s leading political and diplomatic commentators in the Friday Political Supplements. Haaretz’s Verter and Yediot’s Barnea see bungling. Maariv’s Ben Kaspit hints at a premeditated provocation.
Haaretz’s senior political analyst, Yossi Verter writes that Netanyahu was taken completely by surprise.
On Monday evening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat contentedly in his office at the Knesset…and then Yedioth Ahronoth journalist Shimon Schiffer called, seeking the reaction of the Prime Minister’s Bureau to the Americans’ statement of opposition to some building project in East Jerusalem.
What’s this about, Netanyahu asked his people. No one knew. Netanyahu asked them to call in Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose purview includes Jerusalem. Yishai ran over from his office. That’s when they figured it out: It was about the northwestern part of the Gilo neighborhood. Netanyahu called several of the relevant players. He was told that this was strictly a technical matter, that on the following day, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission would be approving the construction of 900 new housing units in the neighborhood.
He knew he was about to get slapped, but it is doubtful he imagined the barrage of condemnation: from U.S. President Barack Obama, who said the construction in Gilo did not contribute to Israel’s security
Yediot’s Nahum Barnea says basically the same, but blames Netanyahu fro bad staffing decisions (full translation here.)
Netanyahu was surprised to discover this week how little he knows about what is taking place in the state he heads. He did not know about the demolition of houses in East Jerusalem. He did not know about the Jerusalem municipality decision to approve the construction of 900 housing units in Gilo. He did not know about the request of special US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell to delay the approval.
When Shimon Shiffer, Yedioth Ahronoth’s political affairs correspondent, asked the Prime Minister’s Bureau to comment on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu said he had no idea. Attorney Yitzhak Molcho, who was in the middle of a meeting with Mitchell in London, said that he heard of the American request only minutes earlier. He told Mitchell that he had no idea. He was concerned lest he get into trouble: Netanyahu had promised Obama full transparency, and what was emerging was muddy water.
Then it turned out that Mara Rudman, a top member of Mitchell’s team, that same day, had asked the Israeli embassy in Washington about the construction in Gilo. The request was relayed to the Prime Minister’s Bureau, but got stuck on the way. It turned out that Interior Minister Eli Yishai knew. He did not think he had to inform the prime minister.
The immediate reason for this failure is that the people with whom Netanyahu has manned his bureau are fine and good, but none of them is actually connected to the Israeli experience. They have no sources. They have no antenna. They live in a bubble, an aquarium. When Dov Weissglas was Sharon’s bureau chief, he managed by means of an interdisciplinary committee whose goal was to respond quickly and efficiently to any call from the American administration. Yoram Turbowicz, Olmert’s bureau chief, had a similar arrangement.
Maariv’s Ben Kaspit suggests that Netanyahu was purposely trying to provoke Obama.
What is really happening is that Netanyahu is trying to promote the political process with one hand, while attempting to delay it with the other. This is a new version of a remark Ariel Sharon once made, speaking from the Likud Central Committee podium. I am willing to help him, he said, but I do not know which of Bibi’s hands I should be helping, the right or the left.
Against this backdrop, suspicions emerged that the fact that the Americans protested the Gilo construction plan was actually leaked to Yedioth Ahronoth by members of Netanyahu’s inner circles in an attempt to make the Palestinians explode, to embarrass the Americans, and to slightly damage progress. And thus, while Netanyahu of the big speeches talks about peace, Netanyahu of the back rooms engages in guerilla warfare. “Only Bibi can,” Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in a fascinating interview with Maariv’s Sofshavua Supplement. He is right, of course. Indeed, only Bibi can. The only question is: Does he want to?