"The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital."
With this defiant declaration, to a thunderous ovation at AIPAC, Benjamin Netanyahu informed the United States that East Jerusalem, taken from Jordan in the Six Day War, is not occupied land. It is Israeli land and Israel's forever, and no Palestinian state will share Jerusalem. Israel alone decides what is built, and where, in the Holy City.
With his declaration and refusal to walk back the decision to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, which blew up the Biden mission, "Bibi" goes home a winner over Barack Obama.
But it is a temporary triumph and hollow victory -- over Israel's indispensable ally. For the clash revealed that the perceived vital interests of Israel now collide with vital U.S. interest in the Middle East.
We have clarity. There is now visible daylight between U.S. and Israeli policy for all the world to see. And America cannot back down without eviscerating her credibility in the Arab and Muslim world
What are the major points of contention?
To Netanyahu, withdrawal from Gaza was a strategic blunder that led to a Hamas takeover and rockets on Israel. That blunder will not be repeated with the West Bank. Israel had a hellish time forcing 8,000 Jews to leave Gaza and will not force 250,000 Jews to leave ancestral lands on the West Bank to create a Palestinian state where the possibility will always exist that Hamas will win at the ballot box and become the government. As for Jerusalem, its city limits are now Israel's permanent borders. Annexation is irreversible.
The American position?
The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory. Building there violates international law. Peace requires a sharing of Jerusalem, return of almost all of the West Bank and withdrawal of the Jewish settlers. And any land annexed by Israel must be compensated for with Israeli land ceded to the Palestinians.
That the U.S. position is not anti-Israel is attested to by the fact that Prime Ministers Ehud Barack and Ehud Olmert came close to a peace with the Palestinians based on these principles.
Netanyahu, however, does not accept them. For he won office denouncing them, and in his ruling coalition are parties that not only opposed withdrawal from Gaza, they oppose a Palestinian state.