RAMALLAH, March 3 (JMCC) - Israel has ordered a temporary freeze in the issuing of tenders for settlements, considered illegal by the international community and a sensitive point with key ally the United States.
Observers believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing the ground for the March visit of US President Barack Obama, reports the
“It’s a temporary step to prevent a diplomatic storm,” Maariv newspaper quoted a Netanyahu associate as saying.
Dark clouds amassed around the issue back in March 2010, during a visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden, when Israel announced it would build 1,600 new homes in the East Jerusalem quarter of Ramat Shlomo.
Tensions are particularly high between Palestinians and Israelis. Now, on Obama’s first trip as president to Israel, the Israeli government is working overtime to make sure this visit appears like a success.
For Netanyahu, keeping up good appearances with Tel Aviv’s all-important relationship with Washington is as crucial as ever, says Noga Tarnopolsky, GlobalPost’s senior correspondent in Israel.
“It’s important to remember in what a weakened condition Netanyahu is,” she says. “He all but lost the last elections. He has been unable to form a government in four weeks. There’s a real possibility that, at the time of Obama's planned visit, Israel will be plunged into political chaos.”
The Israeli prime minister especially needs good news in the area of foreign affairs, where much of his weakness lies.
Netanyahu's first term in office was marked by notable diplomatic reverses, Tarnopolsky explains. Prime examples were the loss of friendship with Turkey, once an important ally, and tensions with the United States. “While neither is entirely Netanyahu's fault, Israelis hold him responsible,” she adds.