Bibi, Peace Now and doing vs. saying

Ron Kampeas

View of caravans in Givat Hamatos neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Municipality published its approval of the plan to build 2600 new housing units there just before Rosh Hashanah, a plan which had been approved in early December 2012 by a planning committee. Oct. 02, 2014. (FLASH90)

View of caravans in Givat Hamatos neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem,  Oct. 2, 2014. (FLASH90)

That Jerusalem building approval blow-up between the Netanyahu and Obama governments? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel media watchdogs like Honest Reporting are pressing the storyline that Peace Now is at fault. Which is kind of like blaming routers for the bad news you posted on the Internet.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

Let’s review: On Sept. 24 the Interior Ministry published in Kol Ha’Ir, a free Jerusalem weekly, an “Announcement of a project approval.” It refers to plans to allow the building of 2,355 to 2,561 units in Givat HaMatos, in the area of Jerusalem that Palestinians claim as a future capital. Its key phrase is high up: “Building approvals and permits: A project that is authorized to issue approvals and permits.”

The language is important because, although the plan was approved in 2012, the ad signals the go-ahead for building; its publication makes it harder to reverse the proposal.

Sept. 24, as it happens, was also the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

On Oct. 1 — yesterday, and the day Netanyahu met with Obama — Peace Now and Terrestrial Jerusalem noted the announcement’s publication. The building permit became an issue in the talks between Obama and Netanyahu and resulted an an unusually sharp rebuke from the White House.

Netanyahu told Bloomberg News that he does not think the timing was a coincidence. The disclosure by Peace Now, which monitors settlement growth, “shows a lack of national responsibility to do something like this,” Netanyahu said. “This was publicized now only in order to damage the meeting” with Obama, he said.

The Housing Ministry took the same tack, according to The Associated Press. Ariel Rosenberg, a spokesman for Israel’s Housing Ministry, which is involved in planning settlement construction, accused Peace Now of timing its announcement to sabotage the White House meeting.

So did Honest Reporting: “So Peace Now deliberately held off on releasing this press statement for a week when it knew it could achieve maximum traction in the press while at the same time causing a new headache for Netanyahu during his U.S. trip. And this despite the fact that the building in Givat Hamatos had been approved as far back as December 2012.”

We don’t know when Peace Now or Terrestrial Jerusalem saw the ad, exactly, and press releases on Erev Rosh Hashanah are more than rare, not just because you won’t get press, but because like almost everyone else in the country, you’re off to holiday dinner — which may have been the point. The Interior Ministry notice is the Israeli equivalent of one of Washington’s notorious Friday night dumps.

Given the three-day holiday — Rosh Hashanah and then Shabbat — there were two working days between the Interior Ministry ad and Netanyahu rolling onto the White House grounds. It is the government that made this announcement on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit. Peace Now and Terrestrial Jerusalem simply noticed, and repeated.

Ron Kampeas is JTA’s Washington bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter at @kampeas