On March 9, during a visit by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, the Israeli government announced approval for the building of 1,600 new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem. The timing was highly offensive, as Washington had only just brokered indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinian leadership is justifiably furious: with its chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, saying no trust can be built if Israel acts like this, it has pulled out of the planned talks. The Israeli announcement, made without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's prior knowledge, came from the Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose ultra-orthodox Shas party is a member of the ruling coalition. As if this were not enough, on March 24 the Jerusalem municipality announced a project under which 20 more apartments would be built in East Jerusalem. The number of Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem has doubled since the 1993 Oslo accords, as it has in the West Bank. No other state has recognised the occupation of either the West Bank or East Jerusalem. In another episode that damaged Israel's standing, the United Kingdom has expelled an Israeli diplomat and member of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, over his country's use of forged British passports in the operation to murder Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19.
For countries that invariably back Israel, the reactions of the U.S. and the U.K. have been very sharp. Mr. Biden, on President Obama's instructions, has “unequivocally” condemned the building plans while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the main plan's announcement an insult. Several British MPs have said Israel is becoming a rogue state. In response, Mr. Netanyahu has been typically truculent, calling Jerusalem his country's capital and telling the Palestinians that their demand for a freeze on all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories was “illogical and unreasonable.” He knows that none of the condemnations will be backed by serious action. Ms Clinton has told the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that U.S. support for Israel is “rock solid”; and the British security services will continue collaborating with Mossad. This means Mr. Netanyahu is unlikely to make any attempt to control his coalition partners, and can pander to the most extreme sections of Israeli society. He can also be confident of ensuring in advance the form of a final settlement with the Palestinians. Israel, it seems, can continue insulting its friends and destroying any possibility of a Palestinian state.