Analysis: Giving ground on Arab east Jerusalem?

Some surprises in seemingly a banal TV interview by the prime minister.

April 23, 2010 03:27
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (AP).

Netanyahu pointing tough good 311. (photo credit: AP)


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On the face of it, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s interview with Channel 2 last night represented a fairly banal outing.

Israel wanted to avoid wars, he declared, and it sought peace. Not many headlines there.

He may not have signaled the firmest of convictions in President Obama’s capacity to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapons capability, but he didn’t give voice to any specific skepticism he may be feeling either.

He wouldn’t be drawn, despite his interviewers’ best efforts, into admitting any sense of personal humiliation at the hands of the US president, merely acknowledging the inevitable “differences of opinion” that arise between friends and that, he said, would be ultimately resolved given the fundamental solidity of the US-Israel relationship.

And he rejected the interviewers’ assertion, echoing remarks earlier this week by former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, that he would need to make a choice between settlements and strong ties with the United States – or as Channel 2 put it, a choice between Obama and Foreign Minister (and Nokdim settlement resident) Avigdor Lieberman. Notwithstanding many months of very public arguments over the settlement issue, the prime minister insisted that no such either/or dilemma existed.

Indeed, he claimed, there was now “full understanding” between Israel and the US of the need to put aside any talk of pre-conditions and get down to the serious business of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But there was one passage of the interview, nonetheless, that merits attention. In the course of his comments on Jerusalem, and his restating of his “red lines” against halting building, 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 with the Palestinians – a position frequently espoused by Kadima and Labor, but not normally by the Likud.

“Why do I have to give in on Jerusalem?” he asked indignantly, referring to Jewish neighborhoods built over the Green Line such as French Hill. “Why? Where’s the logic in that?” But where Arab neighborhoods like Abu Dis and Shuafat, which lie within Israel’s self-declared sovereign city limits, were concerned, he said, “That’s a different question.” The question of the status of the Arab neighborhoods, he allowed, was “legitimate.”

“No one,” he elaborated, “wants to add a greater Arab populace to Jerusalem.” Still, he went on, there were some who worried 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. “If we get out of [the Arab neighborhoods of east] Jerusalem, Iran might come in. That’s [a] legitimate [concern],” said Netanyahu.

The fate of such Arab neighborhoods, he said, was not the issue of concern right now. It was, rather, “a question that will arise in the final-status arrangements.”

Really? The hawks in his own party, and other parties to his right, won’t have been too pleased to hear that.   

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