I never promised you a rose garden: Obama and Netanyahu

At the time of writing it’s not clear whether today’s Obama-Netanyahu meeting in Washington will see a joint statement and photo-opportunity in the White House’s Rose Garden.

Last time, of course, there wasn’t. Instead Netanyahu was, as reporters like to say, “snubbed”. Kept waiting, no photos. The cause of what the Daily Telegraph (rather over-heatedly) calls the “mother of all snubs” was widely interpreted as US displeasure at Israel’s building expansion in occupied East Jerusalem. Such is the semiotics of power and diplomacy: keep ‘em waiting while you’re eating + no pics + brief the press lobby accordingly = stern rebuke.

That was March though and today’s meeting is apparently set to be a warm-welcome, red carpet affair. Fine. I’ve just read Chris Mullin’s diaries and I know how the trappings of these meetings are important (ludicrous in the case of some African states according to Mullin: miles of red carpeting, massive cars, police outriders, palatial luxury). But, as Mullin also indicates, beneath the showy protocol, even a junior minister often manages to get some one-on-one face time with leaders.

Here it’s to be hoped that either Obama himself or one of his advisers will be able to communicate to Netanyahu that US opposition to continued Israeli building in East Jerusalem is not just some sort of fad of theirs. It ought to become part of a principled position of US policy that it will mean any new building projects on occupied Palestinian land are resisted by the US.

A new report by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem claims that Jewish settlements now control more than 42% of the West Bank (not physically occupy, that’s 1% they say). The point, say B'Tselem, is that the jurisdictional influence of the settlements extends far beyond the settlement perimeters. Certainly Amnesty has regularly criticised the building of specials roads and other infrastructure for the exclusive use of settlers and last year we showed that settler water use is far higher than West Bank Palestinian usage and in fact depleting reserves.

The other side of the coin, of course, is that Israel has been quick to send in the bulldozers to tear down Palestinian homes when they’re in what they term “closed military zones” (albeit ones deep inside the West Bank). According to the UN, last year more than 600 Palestinians – over half of them children – lost their homes after they were demolished on orders from the Israeli authorities.

Of particular concern right now is a spate of Israeli military evictions and demolition orders in the northern Jordan Valley. Seventeen families in the area are at imminent risk of forced eviction after being issued with eviction orders last week. Please take action here to try to get this stopped.

I don’t know whether Barack has promised Binyamin a Rose Garden photo-call on this trip. I do know that the illegal building and demolitions on occupied Palestinian territory has got to stop.   

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