The Israeli press must have been happy to wake up this morning. While the arrival of American Vice President Joe Biden in Israel was an event, no one expected much more from it than the usual exhortations of goodwill and a few gestures toward reviving the peace process. Yesterday’s announcement by the interior ministry that it has approved the building of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a religious neighborhood in East Jerusalem, however, handed our hapless press corps nothing less than a full-blown diplomatic incident.
The circumstances under which the plans were approved and announced remain unclear, with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai claiming that it took place without their knowledge and professing their embarrassment over the timing of the announcement. According to Haaretz, Yishai professed on Israeli radio that “The district committees approve plans weekly without informing me,” and “If I’d have known, I would have postponed the authorization by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone.”