Joe Biden's 2010 Israel visit and the birth of Ramat Shlomo - opinion

On the second day of Biden’s visit to Israel, the Jerusalem Planning Committee promoted a plan to build 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem.

A VIEW of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot (foreground) and Ramat Shlomo (background). (photo credit: REUTERS)
A VIEW of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot (foreground) and Ramat Shlomo (background).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last month, Joe Biden's inauguration took place on Capitol Hill and he became the 46th. President of the United States.
Now, I would like to share some facts about his visit to Jerusalem in 2010, as I see them:
In his book A Promised Land, President Barack Obama accuses Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of lying to him about a Jerusalem construction planning announcement.
"I accepted the fiction that the permit announcement had been just a misunderstanding," he wrote. 
The event caused a political and diplomatic storm during then Vice President Biden's visit.
A brief reminder: On the second day of Biden’s visit to Israel to initiate the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the Jerusalem Planning Committee promoted a plan to build 1,600 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
According to reports in the American and Israeli media at the time, Biden was furious with the decision and especially its timing. Some claimed at the time that Netanyahu approved the construction plan on that day in order to embarrass the high-ranking guest and to show that no one can dictate an agenda to the Israeli government.
It was a significant drama that clouded relations between Obama, Biden and Netanyahu.
If Joe Biden had not won the presidential race, the visit would have been a fleeting episode in history. But now, with Biden's inauguration, the event that took place more than a decade ago may affect the relationship between the two leaders and consequently also the relationship between the countries. 
Therefore, as an ex-official in the Jerusalem planning system, let me tell you the real story as I experienced it and how lack of attention to details caused an international diplomatic crisis.
Weeks before Biden's visit, I started working as an advisor to the local committee for planning and construction in Jerusalem. I remember that in my first days in the office, I noticed a file containing building plans lying in one corner of the room.
The specific file contained a projected plan for a new ultra-orthodox neighborhood. An interest group within the local planning committee did not like the project and wanted to delay it as much as they could.
The interest group used all of its available tactics to delay the approval procedure in the local planning committee. But once they were exhausted, the file was finally referred to the next scheduled committee meeting, which, to an unplanned turn of events, turned out to be during the above Biden visit.
Thus, the above project had fallen victim to the demographic tensions in Jerusalem --- not the demographic tension between the Jewish and Arab populations and the constant tension around the 1967 armistice lines -- but rather the struggle for the demographic balance between the secular vs. orthodox Jewish populations of the city.
The date of the announcement of the plan was just a result of the technical scheduling process of the district committee, with no relation whatsoever to the overwhelming political events on an international level.
The three most important factors in real estate are location, location, location, but in the case of the above Jerusalem construction plan, it was all about timing.
The Israeli government and especially the prime minister were not involved in promoting the plan and did not intend to cause a crisis or to thwart the diplomatic visit - for the simple reason that the plan was supposed to have been brought to the district committee several weeks before Biden's visit.
I have participated in many planning committee deliberations in Israel and even also have served as chairman of a district planning committee. More than once, I witnessed the political use of the planning institution’s power. In the vast majority of cases, the political use was legitimate and within known demarcation boundaries. But in rare cases, I admit, there was also a cynical use of power that moved beyond those legitimate boundaries.
Although it is essential to say that none of those involved in early 2010 anticipated the diplomatic consequences.
Luckily for us, the role of personal chemistry played a small part in the broader US and Israel relationship because we share the same strategic assets based on the same system of values and beliefs.
However, I thought it right to tell now the story of the plan to make it possible to clear the wrong atmosphere, as much as it is still left, between the countries and of course also between the leaders. I sincerely hope that the connection between Israel and the new Biden administration will only strengthen and grow.
Mr. President good luck, you are most welcome to revisit Jerusalem.
Nir Messiqa is the former deputy general director of the Israeli National Housing Cabinet and served at the beginning of the previous decade as an advisor to the Local Planning Committee’s chairman in Jerusalem.