Jerusalem old city 88.
(photo credit: )
What's surprising about the foreign diplomats' "boycott" of the Knesset session marking the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem is that anyone was surprised.
The international community as a whole and even those nations sympathetic to Israel have never formally recognized the annexation of east Jerusalem following the Six Day War. Inviting their representatives to the Knesset on the anniversary unnecessarily embarrassed Israel's few friends, not to mention the pathetic use by some politicians of Germany's historical guilt when criticizing the role played by the European Union's current president in coordinating the position of the Union's ambassadors.
The ignorance displayed by Knesset Speaker and Acting President Dalia Itzik, who assumed that her invitation would be enough to overturn a four-decades' long policy, casts serious doubts over the judgment of the presumptive presidential candidate, especially, if as reported, Itzik brushed aside a discreet Foreign Ministry warning that inviting the ambassadors was only inviting trouble.
Declarations of the eternalness of Jerusalem's unity come easily to politicians. It is the Jewish people's inalienable birthright, so why are they suddenly so eager for international legitimization?
But as pointless as Itzik's diplomatic incident is, it serves to remind us of a painful fact of life: When it comes to Jerusalem, the majority of Israelis and Jews are living in a parallel universe.
Last summer, Costa Rica and El Salvador became the last countries to remove their embassies from Jerusalem; none of the major powers ever had their embassies in the capital. Call it hypocrisy, cynicism, or even anti-Semitism, but Israel doesn't have the diplomatic clout to force even its allies to base their legations in the "disputed" capital. When it comes to Jerusalem, we're on our own. All the more important then that Israel should act seriously in strengthening the city. Itzik's showboating merely boosts those who would like to delegitimize our presence.
Neither are empty gestures such as the government's "decision" on Sunday to award the city NIS 5.75 billion much use. The great majority of the funds either were earmarked years ago, or else have yet to be authorized. And besides, none of the projects - like moving government departments to Jerusalem, building new courthouses and canceling employer's tax - address the city's most acute problem: a chronic shortage of affordable, attractive apartments for young families. Actually, these festive announcements cause more harm, since they create the illusion that something is actually being done about the city's ills.
Meanwhile, Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who was invited to the special cabinet meeting, produced his own headline: Apparently there's a real danger that in 12 years Jerusalem will lose its Jewish majority and "fall into the hands of Hamas."
The problem with this fear-mongering statement is that it has no factual basis. Even the most pessimistic projection has the Palestinian population of Jerusalem reaching 40 percent of the city's inhabitants, at the most by 2020.
And even then, who said that most of the Palestinians in Jerusalem, a diverse, petit-bourgeoisie and relatively secular community, are Hamas supporters?
There are three possibilities here. Either Lupolianski knows virtually nothing about a third of his constituents; or there has been a hidden wave of sudden Islamic radicalization in east Jerusalem that no one, including the intelligence services, is aware of except the mayor; or what is more likely, his PR advisers told him that Hamas overtaking Jerusalem would make a good headline and to hell with the facts.
Yes, demographic trends are worrisome in the long term, and yes, it's aggravating that the whole world doesn't recognize the Jewish state's right over the whole of the city, but there are much more pressing problems in Jerusalem, like the fact that tax-paying Jewish couples are fleeing the city in droves for the lack of housing and employment. Most young people nowadays aren't prepared to wait around for some low-paying government job that might come along when some obscure ministry arrives in town sometime in the next decade.
Lupolianski rightly said at the cabinet meeting that talk wouldn't be enough and a comprehensive plan was needed. He neglected to mention that it was his volte-face five months ago that doomed the only serious policy to supply tens of thousands of new homes to young couples: the Safdie Plan that Lupolianski backed for nine years until he suddenly discovered green roots and turned against it.
Mouthing platitudes and manufacturing scare stories is easy, and we're going to see a lot of it in the coming week. Serious solutions and politicians willing to implement them are a lot harder to come by.