Though obnoxious, Benjamin Netanyahu is no dummy. After all, the Israeli Prime Minister knows that if he got away with something the first time, he might as well take another shot at it the second time. And lo and behold, his victim on both occasions was Joe Biden, the ever-smiling American vice-president.
When Biden visited occupied Jerusalem last March in an attempt to help kickstart the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, stalled by Israeli expansionism into the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government unbeknownst to the visiting vice-president, simultaneously announced its intention to build 1,600 housing units in occupied east Jerusalem which the Palestinians hope will be their capital once their state is established.
That announcement touched off a seemingly serious crisis between the two countries and many thought the Netanyahu government would be paying a high price for its audacity. But contrary to all expectations, here and in Israel, US President Barack Obama shockingly caved in and mended his relationship with Israel.
This time around, Biden surprisingly repeated the same line he pronounced last March, reportedly drafted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to a conference last weekend of the Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly in New Orleans: "When it comes to Israel's security there can be no daylight — no daylight — between Israel and the US."
Hardly had Biden finished his remarks, which were followed the following day by an address by Netanyahu, the Israeli government repeated its earlier manoeuvre, announcing that another 1,000 housing units will be built in occupied east Jerusalem.
The US reaction was muted. All, here and elsewhere, are still wondering about the response of Obama, once he returns from his official visit to several East Asian states.
This baffling Israeli step coincided with Biden's new assurances that "the ties between our two countries are literally unbreakable," and pointing out that the Obama administration had done more for Israel's security than any other previous US administration.
But the US State Department, as a matter of course, declared that the Israeli action was "deeply disappoint[ing]" and the spokesman wondered whether the announcement was meant "to embarrass the Prime Minister and to undermine the [peace] process".
Another somewhat uplifting comment came from Valerie Jarrett, described as Obama confidante and White House senior adviser for Public Outreach in a conference call she initiated with "progressives around the country, who may have been disheartened" by last Tuesday's mid-term election results in which Obama's Democratic Party received, as he put it, a "shellacking".
As reported by the American Jewish news agency, Jarrett told her callers that "the president has made it very clear that he is committed to doing whatever he can to foster talks in the Middle East — that's unwavering." She assured her audience which included Jewish groups, according to blogger Steve Clemons, "that's not a partisan issue; his commitment to that is unwavering."
At the same time, the standing of Israel's ultra-rightist government among American Jewish groups has been noticeably diminishing.
For example, when Netanyahu addressed the New Orleans conference of Jewish leaders, he was repeatedly heckled by the audience, led by Jewish Voice for Peace activists. "I think we'll be seeing more of this," noted M. J. Rosenberg, a former director of policy analysis for Israel Policy Forum.
There is a feeling nowadays in the US that "American Jews are divesting from Israel," reported a Haaretz correspondent, Bradley Burston, who is on a US tour. "This is what I was to see in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Marin County, Portland and Seattle, " he wrote. "It's that American Jews are divesting emotionally. They are quietly — but in terms of impact, dramatically — withdrawing altogether."
He also quoted Thomas L. Friedman, a prominent columnist of The New York Times, as saying at a panel discussion that Israelis "are losing the American people," explaining that when they see President Obama "working hard to try to tee up an opportunity [and] all we're asking is just test - go all the way to test whether you have a real partner. And you say ‘No, first pay me — let Pollard out of jail, have Abu Mazen sing Hatikva in perfect Yiddish, and then we'll think about testing.' It rubs a lot of people the wrong way."
In a recent editorial, the Times said that "the Israelis cannot bet on the infinite patience of the Palestinian people — or the international community."
In other words, it is high time that Obama should stand up and confront these Israeli shenanigans. After all, as he recognised, the Middle East peace is in America's national security interests and he may only have two years to reach that goal.
Otherwise, the continued turmoil in the region, if unchecked, may mark the beginning of the end for many in the region, including Israel, a development that many in the Arab world would obviously favour.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at email@example.com