By Sylvia Gurinsky
Keystone Kops or cynics? That's the choice of labels for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
My pick: The latter.
Only an opportunist would cause embarassment during the visit to Israel of Vice President Joe Biden by announcing an expanded program for construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu called the announcement "a technical mishap." Baloney.
Netanyahu has wanted to have it both ways since the beginning - looking to outside influences like he's interested in a peace process with the Palestinians, and keeping his right-wing government - not the most politically savvy in the world - happy. All this from someone who took the prime minister's seat without a majority of votes (sound familiar?).
Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly criticized the timing of the announcement. Special envoy George Mitchell, who wasn't accomplishing all that much before Israel's announcement, has postponed his next trip.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's brother-in-law has called President Barack Obama an "anti-Semite." Talk about stoking the fires of the Israeli right, which didn't like or trust Obama to begin with. Racism on their part toward a black U.S. president who has reached out to Arabs in peace - Does anyone in Netanyahu's government know or understand that word anymore? - may fuel some of those fires.
Israeli government officials have been misreading the signs ever since 2000, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon strutted into an archaeological dig near the Al Aqsa mosque. They misread on Sharon's 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which cleared the way for Hamas terrorists to move in and start firing rockets at the northern Negev. They misread on their military conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah in 2006 and 2008.
The late, great Israel statesman Abba Eban, born in South Africa, educated in England and devoted to his adopted country, once said of the Arabs, "They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."
Now, whether by clumsiness or scorn, it's Israel missing the opportunity.