As a presidential candidate, Obama won plaudits from media and political sophisticates for his promise to meet “without preconditions” with America’s enemies. This was to be a break with the putative “cowboy diplomacy” of the Bush years. Obama didn’t get around to explaining how his administration would conduct diplomacy with America’s allies, but now we have a good example from Vice President Biden, who along with his wife Jill showed up more than an hour and a half late to a dinner at the home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This snub was apparently intended to show the Obama administration’s disapproval of Israel’s decision this week to go forward with housing construction in East Jerusalem.
The most immediately striking observation about Biden’s dinner-time diplomacy is how puerile it is. It’s no secret that the Obama administration has opposed Israeli settlement activity, but there are more effective avenues for voicing such disagreements, ones that don’t involve embarrassing the elected leader of a staunch regional ally in his own home. If this marks a change from the Bush administration’s diplomacy, it is hardly for the better.
One might note, too, that the substance of the administration’s objections isn’t especially compelling. The bulk of the Israeli settlement activity will take place in already established Jewish neighborhoods; it does not alter the facts on the ground. And whatever one’s view of the new settlements, it’s demonstrably false to claim, as Biden did in condemning Israel’s decision, that they “undermine peace efforts.” As the administration must surely know, there are no peace efforts, for the simple reason that the two conditions necessary for them to move forward – unambiguous Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the end of Palestinian terrorism – have not been met. No doubt Prime Minister Netanyahu would have been able to make both points effectively over dinner – that is, had Biden bothered to show up on time.