Analysis: A US statement on e. J'lem is hard to come by

A clear, written document would represent a policy precedent on Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, says ex-ambassador Kurtzer.

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November 19, 2010 06:10
3 minute read.
Former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer.

Daniel Kurtzer 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The US would set a policy precedent if it made a clear statement that excluded Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem from any settlement freeze, former American ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

It would represent the first time Washington had clearly stated its policy with respect to east Jerusalem, Kurtzer said. And therefore, he indicated, it was highly unlikely that a clear written commitment would be made.

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For more than two decades, US policy with regard to Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem has been ambiguous.

Much of the international community has not distinguished between construction in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem.

The US has been more vague. Congress has in the past declared its support of a united Jerusalem.

In the 1990s, the US vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions condemning east Jerusalem construction. It remains unclear whether then-president George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon intended to reference east Jerusalem when it stated that given “existing major Israeli population centers” it was unrealistic to expect a full return to the 1949 armistice line in any final-status agreement.



But at the same time, the US has often chastised Israel for building in east Jerusalem, which at times it has referred to as a settlement. Disagreement on this issue has deepened under the Obama administration.

The US ambiguity has been highlighted in the last week, as Israel’s right to continue to build in east Jerusalem has become a critical component of the incentives package now under discussion that the Obama administration wants to exchange for a 90-day freeze on new settlement construction.

The government was able to exclude east Jerusalem from the terms of the last freeze, which expired on September 26, without the Obama administration loudly objecting, because the US was not required to put anything in writing.

This allowed the US to compliment Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for taking bold measures in support of peace, even as it continued to speak against east Jerusalem construction.

Kurtzer speculated that despite Netanyahu’s assurances to the contrary, part of the delay in finalizing the anticipated US document setting out the terms of a 90-day freeze had to do with Jerusalem.

If the US commits to excluding Jerusalem, than “its policy takes a hit,” Kurtzer said. He added that such a statement would anger the Palestinians, who have insisted that building there must stop before they will return to the negotiating table.

At the same time, if the language is too vague, then Netanyahu would not be able to pass the measure in the security cabinet, particularly given that two Shas ministers whose abstention is critical to the document’s approval have sought clarity on the issue of Jerusalem.

Kurtzer said he did not believe that the same ambiguity that worked with the first freeze could be repeated now. In part this was because the topic had been so widely publicized, he said.

He imagined a scenario in which Netanyahu insisted that a vaguely worded document sanctioned east Jerusalem building, while at the same time a State Department spokesman denied this when quizzed by a reporter.

But no matter how well crafted the language of a US document might be, such artfully vague language would be erased the moment that spokesman spoke out against the construction, Kurtzer said.

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