It seems Clinton'sactions were driven in part by the belief that a strong statement is required to avoid Arab backsliding on the eve of envoy George Mitchell's visit. However, there is also the danger that this harsh response will make Palestinians and Arab states more likely to escalate their demands now, and in the future. The United States should be wary of the cautionary tale provided by the Obama administration's call in 2009 for a strict settlement freeze. This step ended up not mollifying, but rather boxing in, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has given two interviews, to Der Spiegel and Asharq al-Awsat, in which he has made clear that the U.S. position forced him to take a maximalist position, so he was not outflanked by Washington. The net impact has been that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians have still not resumed since the start of the Obama administration.
This does not mean that Israel should be left off the hook. Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who bears responsibility for the announcement of 1,600 units in East Jerusalem at the time of Biden's visit, should be replaced.
Yishai is a central figure in Israel. In Israel, the interior minister is in charge of national allocations to local governments. In other words, he is indispensable to every mayor. This is how Yishai's party, Shas, built its power base in the 1980s. Key municipal changes usually require his ministry's involvement.
Yishai is also one of seven ministers who meet in Netanyahu's office and form the inner political circle called the"ha'shvi'ia" -- or, simply, "the seven." It is hard to believe that Yishai was not aware of the announcement about the new neighborhood. He most probably did not seek to sabotage the Biden visit, but he was either indifferent or simply did not connect the dots. This is not much better.
Replacing Yishai would send a message in the Israeli political world that U.S.-Israel relations are more important than domestic politics. While Netanyahu will want to avoid a coalition crisis with his ally, Shas, this could be avoided if the prime minister confers directly with the party's spiritual head, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to find another Shas figure to assume the position of interior minister.
Yishai's departure would demonstrate that Israel recognizes that it cannot take the United States for granted. This move will also prove to Washington that its concerns are being taken seriously. However, strengthening the bilateral relationship requires a mutual effort by both sides. From the U.S. side, Clinton should seek redress by insisting on specific changes to Israeli behavior without bringing into question the very contours of the U.S. relationship with Israel, which Biden, and Obama himself, have sought to deepen.