It says a lot when Vice President Joe Biden comes across as the Obama administration's most skilled statesman. Last week during a visit to Israel, Mr. Biden was caught off-guard by an announcement that work would progress on 1,600 apartment units in Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, a Jewish enclave in the northern part of the city claimed by Palestinians. This faux pas could have ended civilly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the bad timing of the announcement, and Mr. Biden reiterated the strength of the relationship between the two countries. Life should have gone on.
Instead, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in close coordination with President Obama, called Mr. Netanyahu and launched a 45-minute telephone tirade. White House senior adviser David Axelrod declared Sunday that the announcement was an "insult" and an "affront" and that resolving this issue was "important for our own security." The Obama administration is demanding the Ramat Shlomo project be cancelled or peace talks cannot continue. Meanwhile, Palestinians - emboldened by the White House chastising Israel - are rioting in the streets.
This absurd crisis is both a mark of the Obama administration's frustration with its unsuccessful efforts at reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace framework and the O Force's general lack of foreign affairs acumen.
Israel's announcement last week was hardly provocative. This project has been on the drawing board since 2008. And compare the atmospherics to January. After meeting with American special envoy George Mitchell, Mr. Netanyahu went to the Gush Etzion settlement and said, "Our message is clear: We are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here, this place will be an inseparable part of the State of Israel for eternity." If that did not put a bee in Mrs. Clinton's bonnet, why should this?
The linkage between construction in Jerusalem and U.S. security is also slim. Mr. Biden told Mr. Netanyahu, "What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan." This argument apparently emerged in January when senior officers from U.S. Central Command briefed Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, conveying the sense of Arab states that the U.S. inability to move Israel on this and other issues made America appear weak.
It's hard to see how throwing a hissy fit like this will make the United States appear strong. Publicly berating an ally while reaching out the hand of friendship to terrorist sponsors like Iran and Syria doesn't inspire confidence. These countries give material support and sanctuary to insurgents in Iraq who kill American troops; maybe they deserve a few angry phone calls as well.
In July, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin revealed that Qatar-based Egyptian Sheikh Yousuf Qaradawi gave $21 million to a Hamas-controlled group to build houses in Jerusalem. Mr. Qaradawi believes that suicide terror attacks are "evidence of God's justice." In a Jan. 9, 2009, sermon that aired on Al Jazeera, he said, "Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one."
Nice folks the Obama administration is siding with. Perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize should have gone to Joe Biden.