It was deja vu in Israel when a Jerusalem municipal committee announced plans for the construction of more than 1,000 Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood. Although the details came out this week, official approvals were made several months ago, and officials say it will likely take years before the start of construction.
The announcement came as Vice President Joe Biden prepared to address Jewish federation leaders at their General Assembly in New Orleans and declare that the U.S.-Israel bond cannot be broken. The State Department issued a now formulaic statement saying that it is “deeply disappointed” by the committee’s announcement and called the plan “counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”
Otherwise, the announcement landed rather quietly. Perhaps stung by last week’s election results and not daring to further alienate one of the few voting blocs that continue to support the president’s party, the White House remained fairly mum. Right-wing groups let the State Department’s criticism slide. J Street echoed Foggy Bottom’s “disappointment,” while other left-wing groups could hardly be roused to protest.
For those who support the right of Israel to build wherever it sees fit in the municipality of Jerusalem, this is all good news. And perhaps it is. No one wants to see a repeat of the ugly breach that opened between the United States and Israel during and after Biden’s visit to Israel in 2009.
But the empty ritual that played out this week — a provocative announcement, an American scolding, and a return to the status quo — indicates, perhaps, something equally worrisome: malaise. The lack of passion on all sides suggests that few see any hope for moving the latest round of peace talks forward. And so another opportunity is lost, history repeats itself, and the perennial puzzle of the Mideast question just gets harder and harder to solve.