ramat shlomo construction east jerusalem 311.
(photo credit: AP)
On May 12, 1968, the government announced that the 28th of the Jewish month of Iyar, the day in 1967 that the Western Wall was liberated, would henceforth be known as Jerusalem Day. On March 23, 1998, it became law.
Today, the nation celebrates the 43rd anniversary of that Six-Day War victory in Jerusalem and the near-miraculous trouncing of the combined armies of Syria, Jordan and Egypt, all supported in their endeavor to destroy the Jewish state by the Soviet Union. But today, Jerusalem has become the epicenter of a major diplomatic storm precipitating a crisis with Israel’s most important ally.
Under the Bush and Clinton administrations, the US essentially ignored building in the large, established, national-consensus Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem where about 200,000 Jews live. The Obama administration changed tack.
Last July, the White House failed to persuade Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to freeze construction for Jews in east Jerusalem. In November there was further tension over building in Gilo. And relations plummeted to a new low in March over the Ramat Shlomo imbroglio.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, taking advantage of the new US emphases, has ratcheted up the pressure. Israel’s actions and plans in Jerusalem were one of the central themes of March’s summit of the Arab League. “Jerusalem and its environs are a trust of Allah,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the gathering. “Saving it from the settlement monster and the danger of Judaization is a personal commandment incumbent on all of us.” Abbas is also refusing to enter into direct talks with Israel unless Netanyahu accepts a construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem – a “red line” the prime minister has said he will not cross.
The PA’s newly adamant position on Jerusalem contrasts sharply with reports, including in this newspaper, that Abbas, in his negotiations with former prime minister Ehud Olmert, had signalled a readiness to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty in certain Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods over the pre-1967 line, including Ramat Shlomo and Gilo. Now, of course, having stayed away from the negotiating table while the Obama administration applied pressure on his behalf, and having only reluctantly consented even to the new US-mediated “proximity” talks, Abbas has no imperative to contemplate even any such small compromise.
FROM THE Israeli side, meanwhile, the messages on Jerusalem have been confused. Last July, Netanyahu was adamant that he would “not accept any limitations on our sovereignty in Jerusalem. I told him [Obama] Jerusalem is not a settlement, and it has nothing to do with discussions on a freeze.”
In contrast, in a recent interview with Channel 2 news, Netanyahu drew a distinction between the city’s post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods and its Arab neighborhoods, and he specified that the permanent fate of the Arab neighborhoods was indeed a subject for final-status discussion – a position frequently espoused by Kadima and Labor, but not normally by the Likud.
At the beginning of this week, it was suggested that Netanyahu had led US envoy George Mitchell to understand that there would be a two-year freeze on building in Ramat Shlomo. Subsequently, the prime minister clarified that refraining from building there was due merely to technical and bureaucratic issues.
Of Netanyahu’s coalition partners, Labor would back a temporary Jerusalem freeze in the cause of substantive negotiations, United Torah Judaism might go along; so too, might Shas. Some in the Likud emphatically would not; the same could probably be said of Israel Beiteinu. Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat, for his part, declared on Monday that municipal construction would in fact continue in all sections of Jerusalem, for both Jews and Arabs.
PLAINLY, THE Israeli cacophony is damaging. It has produced a lack of clarity where the US is concerned and is being exploited by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu made a lot of sense in his late April TV interview, asking indignantly “Why do I have to give in on Jerusalem?” when referring to Jewish neighborhoods built over the Green Line such as French Hill, but noting, where Arab neighborhoods like Abu Dis and Shuafat were concerned, “That’s a different question.” No one, he elaborated, “wants to add a greater Arab populace to Jerusalem,” but there was a “legitimate concern” that “if you get out of there,” Iran would fill the vacuum in one guise or another, as it had done in Lebanon and Gaza.
As it examines and resolves such dilemmas, Netanyahu’s government needs
to formulate a clear policy on east Jerusalem and make sure that his
coalition members, Jerusalem’s mayor and other official talking heads
understand and follow it.
Because as things stand on Jerusalem, 43 years later, we continue to negotiate with ourselves.