East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Earlier this month I was walking down the streets of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, where settlers had entered seven buildings just a few days earlier. The unpaved roads and uncollected garbage were a clear indication that I was standing east of the Green Line. Despite Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the Arab neighborhoods there are still plagued by poor infrastructure and general neglect. They are definitely not spots one would consider moving into for quality of life. Due to the entry of the settlers, the streets of Silwan were full of police officers and private security guards, sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Housing and Construction.
On the same day, after learning about the final approval of a plan for 2,610 housing units in Givat Hamatos, Peace Now exposed to the Israeli public the plan for the construction at the southern municipal border of Jerusalem.
Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Department reports on such developments on a regular basis. It does so in order to stimulate government transparency and a democratic public debate on the issue of settlements. Under Prime Minister Netanyahu, unfortunately, such reports have been rather frequent due to his policy of settlement expansion.
After his meeting with US President Barack Obama, later that evening, Netanyahu slammed Peace Now for reporting on the recent developments, while attempting to divert the criticism on Silwan and Givat Hamatos. Netanyahu even accused the movement of “lack of national responsibility,” as if Peace Now has any control over settlement plans or their timing. Inside Israel, Netanyahu’s statement partially succeeded in diverting criticism away from him and toward Peace Now. The usual suspects from the Israeli right joined the attack and even recycled their call for the promotion of the “NGO bill,” which aims to impose heavy taxes on peace and human rights non-profits.
As he does so well, Netanyahu shifted the debate away from the real issue – the impact of settlements on Israel’s future and on a future peace agreement with the Palestinians, to that of Israel’s image abroad.
Israel’s image, however, can only be rehabilitated if its government pursues the right policies: promoting a twostate solution and stopping unilateral steps of settlement construction. Stating support of a two state solution is not enough, particularly when Netanyahu’s government takes actions that indicate the exact opposite. Israel’s image is not determined by smoke and mirrors, but by the reality of its actions.
So let’s consider these actions.
The entry of settlers to Silwan was a highly political move, an attempt to change the status quo in Jerusalem by altering the character of the Arab neighborhood.
According to the Clinton Parameters, in the framework of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem will become part of the future Palestinian state, while Jewish neighborhoods will remain a part of the state of Israel. By settling in Palestinian neighborhoods, these settlers are trying to change the reality on the ground and make a future peace agreement inapplicable.
Unlike in 1991, when settlers entered Silwan and the Shamir government asked for their evacuation, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not object the move despite its harsh consequences.
As for the planned neighborhood in Givat Hamatos, if built, the neighborhood will completely block two Arab neighborhoods from a future Palestinian state. Furthermore, it will create a disconnect, a wedge, right at the heart of a future Palestinian state, between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, preventing the territorial contiguity necessary for a Palestinian state to develop and prosper. It’s not too late for Netanyahu to act. He can still announce that he will not implement the plan and that he will never issue any tender to allow construction in Givat Hamatos.
Instead of blaming Peace Now, it is time for our government to demonstrate the national responsibility we Israelis deserve by promoting peace, freezing settlement construction and accepting the fact that any future solution will require a compromise in Jerusalem.
Until this happens, do not blame the messenger, blame the policy.
The author is the Director of Development and External Relations of Israel’s Peace Now movement.