For those fond of the script that has come to define the American-Israeli joint press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the White House on Wednesday did not disappoint.
In remarks before his meeting with Netanyahu, President Obama spoke of Israel's precarious perch in a "very turbulent neighborhood" and mentioned again "the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel." In turn, Netanyahu thanked the president for his "unflinching support" and rhapsodized about Israel and America's "continuous bond of friendship."
But for the second time during a high-level visit, a deviation from the sacred script undermined the entire meeting. Just ahead of the visit, the left-leaning Israeli group Peace Now announced that last week Israel had approved plans for over 2,500 homes in majority Arab East Jerusalem. And hours after President Obama had once again plugged America's "unbreakable bond" with Israel, White House spokesman Josh Earnest scolded Israel in unusually harsh terms.
"This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere, not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations."
Back in 2010, Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Israel was overshadowed by a similar announcement. Hours after Biden reiterated American support for Israel's security, building plans for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem were announced.