Time for America to stand firm
Posted by rabbibrian on March 21, 2010
Eight days ago, I cheered as I watched Hillary Clinton’s CNN interview in which she criticized the government of Israel for insulting and undermining vice-President Biden on his visit to Israel with the announcement of a plan to build new housing units in Ramat Shlomo. Finally, America was taking a stand against continued Israeli expansion in Jerusalem. Finally, America was calling the government of Israel on deliberately making announcements, such as the one about Ramat Shlomo, to greet American leaders who come here to pursue a peace settlement. Just two moths ago, when George Mitchell came to Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted his visit with a tree planting in Maaleh Adumim where he proclaimed that Jerusalem would always be the “eternal, united capital of the State of Israel.”
Much has happened over the past week since Clinton’s interview on CNN and Netanyahu is now in the U.S. about to appear before adoring fans at the AIPAC convention. The most important question that will determine whether this “crisis” in Israel-U.S. relations actually moves the Israelis and Palestinians towards peace, rests on the ability of the American administration to stand firm. If the Administration insists on an end to the massive building of Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and an end to the creation of Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods, it will advance the prospects for peace. If not, Israel will continue on its path of continued occupation and violence, that is counter to American interests and values and that, according to General Petraus, actually puts American lives at risk.
Unfortunately, AIPAC, the Israel Lobby and major mainstream American Jewish organizations are the main countervailing force to America standing firm on this issue. Nine months ago the Obama Administration correctly called for a complete freeze on settlements in the West Bank. The mistake of the Administration was to back off from its demand and to settle for a temporary freeze with several conditions. If the Administration backs down again now, and there are signs that it may do so, it will leave the situation worse, than if it hadn’t raised the issue in the first place.
Most people don’t understand the realities of housing in Jerusalem. Avigdor Lieberman dishonestly compared the American demand in relation to building homes for Jews in Jerusalem to a hypothetical scenario where Jews are not allowed to build houses in New York. The hypothetical scenario that Lieberman describes is in no way analogous. In Jerusalem the problem is not that Jews are not allowed to build houses. In Jerusalem it is Palestinians who cannot build. Thousands of houses are built for Jews every year, while Palestinians cannot even get a zoning permit to build an addition to their homes or to build a new house.
A closer analogy would be if hundreds of houses and entire neighborhoods were built with public money for one segment of the American population in New York, let’s say Jews, while another segment of the population, let’s say non-Jews, were not allowed to build or to expand housing. The overwhelming majority of American Jews would oppose such discrimination even if it were to privilege Jews. We would correctly argue that any form of discrimination is a violation of core Jewish and American values. Many American Jews were and continue to be involved in the struggle against housing discrimination in America. How come so many Jews are committed to fair and equal access to housing in America but are unwilling to support this basic principle of equality here in this holy city?
Much of the Palestinian housing in Jerusalem is illegal because Palestinians cannot get permits and because there still is no building plan for Palestinian neighborhoods. These illegal Palestinian homes, a significant percentage of all Palestinian homes, are all under threat of demolition. Every year close to one hundred Palestinian homes are demolished, ensuring that all Palestinians fear demolition.
My wife and I went on a tour of East Jerusalem with Ir Amim, a organization dedicated to an equitable Jerusalem, the week of vice President Biden’s visit. We saw huge Jewish neighborhoods built since 67 encircling East Jerusalem: from Pisgat Ze’ev in the North to Gilo and Har Homa in the South. All these neighborhoods have been built for Jews and not even one new Palestinian neighborhood has been created during this period of time. In 1996/7, the last time we spent several months in Jerusalem we attended protests against a new proposed settlement in Har Homa. On the Ir Amim tour we drove though the neighborhood of Har Homa, now home to several thousand Jews. There was a lot of construction including a new neighborhood being created adjacent to Har Homa.
Not only have vast Jewish neighborhoods been built, extreme right wing Jews with the full support of the State of Israel, have have created Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods such as the Ras El Amud, Sheikh Jarrah and others.
On our tour we drove through Ras el Amud, a Palestinian neighborhood around 1:00 p.m. on Friday as Palestinians were returning from prayers and saw the Jewish settlement in the middle of Ras el Amud that is sponsored by Irving Moskowitz, an American Jewish millionaire. In the middle of this Palestinian neighborhood there is a heavily guarded series of apartment complexes with huge Israeli flags and there are plans to build a bridge that will join this enclosed area with a former Jordanian police post that will also be turned into housing for Jews.
While Jews justify the creation of settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods on the basis of Jewish ownership of the these homes before 48, Palestinians, who own thousands of homes in Jewish areas in Jerusalem from before 48, have no right to claim these homes.
This is the reality of Jewish building in Jerusalem. A freeze on building in Jerusalem would not mean the end of new homes for Jews in the city. Homes could be built for Jews in West Jerusalem and in areas west of the city. The building in East Jerusalem is politically motivated in an effort to prevent the Arab population from outnumbering the Jews in Jerusalem.
What is happening in Jerusalem and on the West Bank is a nightmare for Jews and for all who care about the moral tradition of our people. It is a recipe for continued conflict and violence. It threatens the possibility of a negotiated settlement to the conflict. If President Obama and the American administration still believe in a two state solution the time to stand firm is now. If Israel refuses to end the settlement policy, America should bring maximum pressure to bear, including the cutting of aid to Israel.
The Administration must stand firm. As I write this, the signs are that it will not and that Netanyahu will again be successful in rejecting the fundamental American demand to end the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
If this happens many in Israel may celebrate Netanyahu as a strong leader but it will only intensify the conflict threatening everyone in the area, Jews and Arabs, and American forces who will bear the brunt of Muslim outrage at American support for a blatantly discriminatory policy. It is time for America to become an “honest broker” in this conflict and the time is now.