First, a little moral clarity on our crisis with Washington. If it were
possible to build 1,600 apartments for Palestinians in the Jewish parts
of Jerusalem, there would be no problem with Ramat Shlomo, the planned
housing project that set off the Obama administration’s anger.
If you could build Palestinian housing in Jewish Jerusalem, then
Israel’s capital would be a city with liberty, justice and equality for
all, and Ramat Shlomo would just be another neighborhood.
But you can’t build housing for Palestinians in Jewish Jerusalem. By
Israeli law, Arabs are effectively prohibited not only from building
new homes but even from buying old ones in the Jewish parts of the city.
Meanwhile, Jews can buy and build in the capital wherever they want –
in the Jewish parts and the Arab parts. This has been going on since
the end of the Six Day War, and now about 200,000 Jewish residents live
on the “liberated” side of Jerusalem. Ramat Shlomo would increase their
population by another 10,000 or so. The system for Jews and Arabs in
Jerusalem is not liberty, justice and equality. The system is separate
and unequal, and this has been official policy in Israel’s capital for
43 years. The only way to change it, the only possible way to bring
democracy to Jerusalem, is to let the Palestinians build their capital
on their side of the city, the side Israel conquered in 1967.
The problem with Ramat Shlomo is that it takes away that much more land
from a would-be Palestinian capital, making it that much harder to
create a Palestinian state next to Israel, which makes it that much
harder to bring liberty, justice, equality and peace to this land.
Forget the embarrassment of Joe Biden – this, finally, is why the Obama
administration is in the right and the Netanyahu government is in the
wrong: because the US position upholds the principle of democracy,
while the Israeli position upholds the principle of separate and unequal.
I know, of course, that this is not why the Obama administration is
raising such hell with our government. The larger reason is that the
Ramat Shlomo announcement during Biden’s visit reminded the world of the disastrous weakness Barack Obama had shown by caving in to
Binyamin Netanyahu on the settlement freeze.
By failing to stand by his administration’s demand for an absolute
freeze on new construction over the Green Line, including in east
Jerusalem, Obama was letting himself in for one humiliation after
another, one reminder of his gutlessness after another, one nail in the
coffin of his Middle East policy after another – because everyone knows
that this Israeli government is not about to stop building settlements.
And this Israeli prime minister is not about to start negotiating
seriously with the Palestinians, either. Netanyahu has pushed the peace
process back a decade. He’s pronounced the territorial offers made by
his predecessors Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak to be null and
void. On Jerusalem, he’s revived the policy of not one inch, and on the
West Bank, he has never to this day agreed to withdraw from any part of
it or ask a single settler to leave.
AS FOR the idea of his coming around to the two-state solution, I’m
sure this gives him a laugh. The conditions he places on Palestinian
statehood – no army, no right to make military alliances, no control of
its airspace, no control of its borders – are the same conditions
he used to say, correctly, were “incongruent” with statehood. He hasn’t
changed. If somebody can explain the difference between Palestinian
statehood, Netanyahu-style, and Palestinian autonomy, Begin-style, I’d
like to hear it.
This is what the Obama administration is dealing with, this is what it
has to look forward to in the peace process. This is what we, the
Palestinians and everyone else have to look forward to – a steady
deterioration leading to war, or to the Palestinians demanding Israeli
citizenship, or to some other disaster.
I was surprised to hear Obama’s mouthpieces reading Israel the riot act
the way they did. After his surrender on the settlement freeze, I
didn’t think he had the guts, I didn’t think he was enough of a fighter
to issue such orders. And I wouldn’t bet he won’t wilt again –
since 1967, every US president has opposed the settlements, and every
one has turned a blind eye to their growth except George H.W. Bush.
As I’ve written before, I think the only way to preserve Israel as a
Jewish, democratic state is for the West, led by the US, to tell this
country: Either get off the Palestinians’ backs or find yourself some
Is Obama ready to do that? Probably not. But his outrage over the Ramat
Shlomo affair was definitely an encouraging sign. He served notice to
Netanyahu that continuing this “screw you” policy to the Palestinians
is now dangerous.
It’s about time. Whoever wants to save Israel as a Jewish, democratic
state should strengthen Obama’s stand. Whoever’s prepared to watch
Israel steadily deteriorate should strengthen Netanyahu’s.