I sometimes worry about Philip J. Crowley, assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs and emcee of the department’s Daily Press Briefings. Do his work habits adversely affect his behavior outside the office? For example, when asked at the supermarket whether he would prefer paper or plastic, does he say it’s too early to tell and revert to a discussion of U.S. commitment to direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians?
Crowley’s latest acrobatics occurred during yesterday’s briefing, when he responded to an observation by a member of the press regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. and the announcement of Israeli plans to construct 1,300 homes in East Jerusalem, now augmented by a plan to construct 800 additional homes in the West Bank settlement of Ariel:
QUESTIONER: …It seems that every time there is visitor, a high caliber visitor, be it an American visitor to Israel or an Israeli visitor to the United States, there seems to be an announcement of building settlements.
CROWLEY: Well, I don’t think the Vice President’s taking this personally.
The Vice President is, of course, the high caliber American who was greeted with settlement announcements during his visit to Israel in March but who nonetheless affirmed at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in New Orleans this past weekend that he was “absolutely certain that our support for Israel must continue … forever”. As for Crowley’s apparent faith in the VP’s inner fortitude, Joe Biden’s emotional state should not technically serve as the official barometer for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Crowley’s suggestion that “it could very well be that somebody in Israel has made this [current settlement plan] known in order to embarrass the prime minister and to undermine the [peace] process” meanwhile dwindles in credibility if we consider Netanyahu’s lack of embarrassment at other recent behavior, such as his scolding of the U.N. Secretary General based on opposition at UNESCO to Israeli confiscation of Palestinian heritage sites.
According to Netanyahu, the U.N. is “distort[ing] historical facts” by refusing to acknowledge the 4,000-year biblically-verified Jewish connection with sites that happen to be located in occupied Palestine. Hopefully Biden will not take it personally if 4,000 years turn out to be more compelling than “forever”.