Let’s get serious about our future

By authorizing new building in east Jerusalem, the government has made a farce of the peace talks in Jordan.

By SARAH KREIMER
January 18, 2012 21:58
Jerusalem's Har Homa

Har Homa 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In the Biblical narrative, when Jacob went out to reach a reconciliation with Esau, he sent flocks of goats and sheep and camels ahead of him – as a sign of good faith, and to appease his brother. He also took defensive action, dividing his camp into two groups, not knowing whether Esau would attack in revenge for Jacob’s having taken his birthright years before. In the end, the brothers reconciled, agreeing to live separately in the Land.

Last week, the prime minister’s special envoy, Itzhak Molcho, traveled to Jordan under the auspices of the Quartet and the Jordanian government to explore the possibility of renewing negotiations with the Palestinians for a two-state resolution to our conflict. Both the current government and past Israeli governments have declared a two-state solution to be the best strategic option for our future and have pledged to work to achieve it.

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The Jordan meeting was the first, fragile attempt at renewing negotiations that had broken off over a year ago, in part over our government’s insistence on continuing settlement activity on land that is ostensibly up for negotiation in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

But instead of sending gifts in advance of the meeting (i.e. freezing settlement building), our government undermined its own special envoy by releasing a list of government tenders for new housing units – including 312 units over the Green Line in east Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa.

ALTHOUGH THE government has been talking for months about resuming building in east Jerusalem, the current tenders were the first to be published for new Israeli building in the area in over a year. The plans turn the declarations into unilateral facts on the ground and totally contravene the spirit of negotiations. They also fly in the face of stiff international condemnation.

The government defended the decision, claiming the tenders weren’t “new” because, as noted above, the plans have been in place for a long time. But there is a wide gap between declaratory statements and actual building. The attempt to obfuscate these acts by claiming they were not new was disingenuous.

As a professional organization working toward a more equitable Jerusalem and toward an agreed-upon future for both Jews and Arabs in the city, Ir Amim expressed dismay at the chilling effect the renewed construction would have on chances for a successful return to negotiations.

Of course, there is no guarantee negotiations will resume if Israel curbs its construction over the Green Line, but such building projects in east Jerusalem and the West Bank at this time certainly serve to weaken the hand of those Palestinian leaders who wish to return to the table. As an Israeli organization, we believe it is vital that the Israeli public know what the government is doing in our name, in order to be able to evaluate its impact on our future.

Regrettably, The Jerusalem Post chose to “attack the messenger” in an editorial last week (“Gould’s hullabaloo,” January 5) rather than address the issues at hand. Worse, the Post suggested that Ir Amim’s data on Jerusalem is somehow compromised but failed to spell out just which statistics the paper finds questionable.

Does Israel “have the right” to build in east Jerusalem? It depends on how you see Israel’s act of unification/occupation/annexation of the 70 sq.km. of West Bank land added to Jerusalem's borders in 1967. Under Israeli law, east Jerusalem is fully a part of Israel, even though the Palestinians who were added along with their land are Israeli residents, not citizens.

Under international law, and in the eyes of virtually all the nations of the world, including our strongest allies, such as the United States, Great Britain, Australia and other supporters, east Jerusalem is another part of the West Bank, no different than Alon Shvut, Tekoa or Nokdim. Even worse for Israel, the unresolved status of east Jerusalem has a negative impact on the status of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, for no country will recognize Israeli sovereignty in any part of the city until the sovereignty throughout the city is determined once and for all.

Is it wise to continue expanding Israeli neighborhoods (settlements) in east Jerusalem? Under the Clinton Parameters, the most widely accepted principles for negotiating Jerusalem’s future, large residential areas such as Gilo, Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev would be recognized as Israeli territory under any negotiated peace agreement. However, because such an outcome would involve recognizing an annexation of land over the Green Line, Israel would need to identify commensurate land within Israel proper to swap for inclusion of these areas.

That means that the more we expand the built-up areas in east Jerusalem, the more land within Israel proper we will have to swap under an agreement. Har Homa, built after negotiations were well under way, was not recognized under the Clinton Parameters, and is a volatile issue.

The basic demands of good faith would suggest, at a minimum, that Israel give credibility to its diplomatic emissary and to the current negotiations by refraining from unilateral steps that risk embarrassing Israel’s hosts and contradict the spirit of giveand- take.

But, alas, present-day Israel is not the Jacob of the Bible; nor are the Palestinians the modern equivalent of Esau. But we certainly could learn from our history and our heritage in order to create the conditions under which we can actually explore a negotiated resolution to our conflict. For the sake of our children and our future. Let’s start with Jerusalem.

The writer is associate director of Ir Amim (‘City of Peoples/Nations’), an Israel nonprofit organization dedicated to a more equitable Jerusalem, and to reaching an agreed-upon future for the city.


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