In recent years, and more obviously since the election of the current Likud-led Israeli government coalition, Israel has intensified its illegal settlement activities in and around East Jerusalem.
According to international law and the many resolutions of both the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, East Jerusalem is part of territories under an illegal and belligerent Israeli military occupation. Consequently, the Israeli policy of settling Israelis in East Jerusalem is as illegal as it is in the rest of the occupied territories, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip.
The United States, which at times has toned down its objection to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, has recently come out very clearly stipulating that the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem is as illegal there as it is in the rest of the West Bank. That is also the position of almost every single country in the world, including the best friends of Israel outside the US, the EU member states.
Partly, the international community was alerted by Israel's policy in recent years of targeting areas of East Jerusalem not previously settled by Israelis. This includes the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, in the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem and outside the walls of the Old City, which sparked the protest by the US State Department.
The reason there seems to be worldwide consensus to condemn Israel's expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem is that it is obvious not only to Palestinians but to all concerned parties that without East Jerusalem as its capital, the practical as well as political possibility of establishing a Palestinian state disappears.
In addition, Israel has expanded its geographic definition of Jerusalem to include a wide swath of West Bank territory, either to the east, toward Jericho, or to the south and north, toward Bethlehem and Ramallah respectively. With such expansion of Jerusalem and its settlements, the West Bank is being divided into two parts between which movement is gradually becoming more and more difficult. Moreover, the available area for a Palestinian state is being gradually diminished.
It is also worth mentioning that such development has very significant negative economic consequences. Most economic analyses of a two-state solution indicate that tourism will be one of the major economic pillars of the economy of a future Palestinian state. But East Jerusalem is absolutely crucial to that.
Another major source of concern arising from the Israeli settlement of East Jerusalem is for the future of Arab-Israel peacemaking generally. Arabs and Muslims, as well as Christians, attach enormous religious significance to the city. But Israel's practices in Jerusalem are changing its Arab Islamic and Christian character as well as its demography, forcing Muslims and Christians to leave. All this will reflect negatively on future Arab-Israel relations.
Israeli policy on Jerusalem is consistent with the current Israeli government's reluctance to seriously entertain a two-state solution as the way to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Certainly, this Israeli government does not want to see an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
As a result, Israel's settlement policy in general, and in East Jerusalem in particular, is seriously endangering the two-state solution that the international community is supposedly still committed to. And with the two-state solution go chances for peace in the region.- Published 27/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president for community outreach at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Working at cross-purposes
by Yossi Alpher
The Obama administration has protested against the Jerusalem municipality's decision to license construction of 20 housing units for Jews on the site of the old Shepherd Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The US views construction of neighborhoods for Jews in the Arab areas of East Jerusalem the same way it views outpost construction in the West Bank, and opposes both.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has rejected the American protests very publicly, stating that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and not a settlement. By diverting the settlement construction issue to Jerusalem, Netanyahu, exploiting the American protest, hopes to rally Israeli and world Jewish opinion behind him and against Obama administration pressures concerning settlements in general.
Nevertheless, and significantly, Netanyahu and his advisors felt a need to anchor his protest in "facts". And the facts put them on shaky ground. For example, the Shepherd Hotel project is billed as having followed normal licensing procedures. But construction there had been held up by the municipality for the past 20 years in consideration of the site's sensitivity. Had Netanyahu picked up the phone to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat he could have stopped the project. Instead, it looks more like the prime minister specifically asked Barkat to finally launch the project in order to engineer a crisis.
Netanyahu argued loudly that it was inconceivable that Jews could live in Paris, New York and anywhere else in the world but not in Jerusalem. But Paris and New York are not Jerusalem, a de facto divided city. The annexation by Israel of Jerusalem's eastern half is not recognized by the international community, which almost unanimously designates it as the future Palestinian capital. Incidentally, few countries even recognize West Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Then too, the prime minister claimed that anyone, Jew or Arab, could purchase a dwelling anywhere in Jerusalem, and pointed to a few dozen Arab residents in Jewish neighborhoods like French Hill and Pisgat Zeev. But these neighborhoods are in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967. That's what the controversy over Jerusalem is all about. Arabs who moved there did so due to the housing shortage in Arab East Jerusalem.
That housing shortage was brought on by two factors. One is construction of the Jerusalem security barrier, which separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank and makes it extremely difficult for Arabs to live outside the city and commute to work there. The second factor is the failure over the past 42 years of the government of Israel and the Jerusalem municipality to issue all but a handful of housing construction licenses for Arab residents of the city. It is virtually impossible for an East Jerusalem Arab (who is a resident of Israel but not a citizen) to buy a home in most of West Jerusalem or in many Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, where the land is leased only to full-fledged Israeli citizens by a state ownership institution.
Perhaps most significantly, this new controversy reflects three negative dynamics. First, Netanyahu evidently believes that Obama is pressuring Israel on a marginal issue and that he can be forced to retreat if Netanyahu plays it tough. But in Obama's view settlements are a major issue, one he has staked his prestige on region-wide.
Second, even the kindest assessment of Netanyahu's actions finds him working at cross-purposes. He says Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state. Yet he makes strenuous efforts, in the course of which he sours American-Israeli relations, to ensure that Israel has a captive Arab population from East Jerusalem and the West Bank that reduces the country's Jewish majority and jeopardizes its Jewish character.
Third, this incident reveals that there is apparently no discreet and highly trusted back channel through which Netanyahu and Obama can communicate. None of these dynamics bodes well for Israel's all-important relations with the US in the Netanyahu era.
The only way Israel can remain a Jewish state is to seek a two-state solution based on withdrawal from the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem--which is demographically, politically, culturally and commercially part of the West Bank. There is nothing sacred to Jews at the Shepherd Hotel; no one is asking Israel to yield Jewish holy places in Jerusalem to exclusive Arab sovereignty.
But even an Israeli who doesn't agree with this determination, doesn't want to yield "united Jerusalem" with its 250,000 angry and deprived Arabs to a Palestinian state, or believes the Shepherd Hotel area is strategically important for Israel's interests (e.g., as a land-link to Mt. Scopus), should have the good sense to yield to the request of the president of the United States. Barack Obama is asking that we freeze settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank while the US, our security and political ally, pursues a new peace process and solicits Arab backing for its policies in Iraq and concerning Iran. Because this is in our interest, Obama deserves our support. Instead the prime minister of Israel escalates tensions.- Published 27/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
More than "obstacles to peace"
by Mousa Qous
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had no qualms about challenging US President Barack Obama's new administration over settlement construction. In spite of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's summons to the State Department, where he was told that the construction of 20 housing units atop the Shepherd Hotel in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah must stop, on July 11 Netanyahu said there would be no limits on Jewish construction anywhere in "unified Jerusalem".
''I would like to reemphasize that united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. Our sovereignty over it cannot be challenged," he added.
Although Israeli settlement efforts are now focused in the Sheikh Jarrah area, there are plans to build settlement enclaves in other parts of occupied Jerusalem such as the 110 units and police headquarters in Ras Alamoud (Maale David). In the nearby area of Maale Zetim where 50 units are already being built, there are further plans to construct 60 more units.
Near the Palestinian parliament building in Abu Dis, there are plans to build 300 units, while near the headquarters of the former British High Commission at the entrance to Jabal al-Mukaber there is a project to build 300 luxury settlement homes. Forty units have already being sold there to American Jews from Miami. In the same area, construction plans have started on 60 other units. This is not to mention settlement activities in Silwan where 70 Jewish families already live in an enclave called the City of David. There are other such enclaves in the Old City. All in all, there are approximately 180,000 settlers living in East Jerusalem, mostly in the 15 settlements established since the occupation of the city in 1967.
Netanyahu's position is not new. It is in line with the policy of the former Likud leader Menachem Begin, commander of the terrorist Irgun militia gang and prime minister from 1977 to 1983, who proclaimed in 1948 that, "the partition of Palestine is illegal. It will never be recognized. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever."
Yet under international law, East Jerusalem is considered part of the occupied territories, which means that the Fourth Geneva Convention is applicable and Israel has no claim to East Jerusalem by virtue of having taken military control of it. In addition, the international community has rejected Israel's claim to both West and East Jerusalem as its "eternal undivided capital'' and has consistently denounced Israeli attempts to change the status of the city.
Moreover, the Oslo accords, which were signed between the PLO and Israel on September 13, 1993, stipulate that both parties should avoid actions that preempt final status negotiations. The roadmap, which was mediated in 2002 by former US President George W. Bush and enjoys worldwide support, obligates Israel to freeze its settlement activities.
Nevertheless, immediately after the resumption of the final status negotiations in Annapolis in September 2007, Israel announced plans to build 307 units in the Har Homa settlement and 440 units in East Talpiot. In 2008, Israel's Ministry of Housing and the Israel Land Administration published plans to build 5,431 settlement units in Givat Hamatos, Pisgat Zeev, Ramot, Neve Yaacov and Har Homa--all Jerusalem settlements.
In other words, Jerusalem settlement construction is a key pillar of Israeli policy regardless of its legal status and the position of the international community. At the same time, it is completely unacceptable to any Palestinian, even the most "moderate", because it will sever the heart, Jerusalem, from any future Palestinian state.
Israel's settlement policy also shows that the country does not want to enact the formula of land for peace. This is clearly illustrated by Israel's rejection of the Arab initiative, in which all the members of the Arab League accepted to recognize Israel and establish normal diplomatic relations on condition that Israel ends its occupation of the Arab and Palestinian territories that began in 1967, including East Jerusalem. The current government also insists on maintaining its settlement policy for fear that any freeze on settlement construction might lead to its collapse or prevent the population growth of settlers living in the occupied city.
And what about the Palestinians in Jerusalem? They need 2,000 housing units annually to accommodate their own population growth rate but in 2008, were issued only 18 Israeli construction permits, according to Deputy Mayor for East Jerusalem Affairs Yakir Segev. These permits include one for building retaining walls for a Muslim cemetery as part of a project funded by the Turkish government. This is not to mention that there are over 20,000 outstanding demolition orders against Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, according to municipality statistics, which means that some 100,000 Palestinians are under permanent threat of displacement.
If Israel's policy in occupied East Jerusalem continues, which it most likely will, there is no prospect for peace in this troubled region. Settlements in East Jerusalem are no mere "obstacles to peace", as previous US administrations have called them. They are incompatible with peace.
Lessons from previous negotiations have taught us that both sides will not able to reach an agreement without third party intervention. Moreover, in order to clear the way for peace, Israel must honor its obligations under the roadmap by halting all settlement activity, including and particularly in Jerusalem, in order to reach a two-state solution, the only internationally accepted resolution to this conflict. If a two-state solution cannot be reached, the only other morally acceptable solution is a one-state solution with equal rights for all its citizens regardless of religion, race or sex.
It is now up to the international community, led by the Obama administration, to decide whether to allow this rightwing Israeli government to dictate its conditions to the world, or if the world will have the final say over ending this conflict by ending the occupation and enabling Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination.- Published 27/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Mousa Qous is a journalist with al-Quds newspaper.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
A Jewish obligation to live in Jerusalem
by Mordechai Kedar
Recently, pressure has been applied by US President Barack Obama to prevent the construction of a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. If Israel deserves the title "state" it has to stand united in an effort to rebuff this pressure resolutely.
There are several justifications for this strong Israeli stand. First, the struggle over settlement in Jerusalem is at heart a struggle over Israeli sovereignty in the city, based on 3,000 years of Jewish history in the holy city, long before Washington was the capital of the United States, Paris the capital of France and Cairo the capital of Egypt. Jerusalem, and particularly the area of the Temple, embodies the hopes and is the focus of the prayers of the Jewish people since it went into exile 1,940 years ago.
Zionism is based on the idea of returning to Zion, meaning to Jerusalem, not to Beersheva or Haifa or Jaffa. Every year at this time, during the month of Av, we weep for the destruction of Jerusalem, with mourning for Yavne, Tzippori, Masada and Gamla added to the mourning for Jerusalem. The prophets of Israel prophesied the salvation of Jerusalem and no other city. Conceding any portion of the city, especially the Temple Mount, would create a sense of destruction among many Jews. They then might lose their faith in the Zionist enterprise and react in ways that could endanger the unity of Israeli society.
Second, if the state of Israel concedes the Temple Mount and other parts of Jerusalem it would be signaling world Jewry that it has lost its link to Judaism and would thereby risk losing the support of many Jews in the world who would consider this an act of treachery against our religion, our history and the Jewish hope of salvation that was realized in part 42 years ago.
Third, Jerusalem never was, even for a day, the capital of a Palestinian or Arab entity. After the Muslim conquest in the seventh century, the capital was Ramleh, located 40 km from Jerusalem. Even Jordan, which ruled East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967 did not make it its capital. Accordingly, the Palestinian demand to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine has no basis in history.
Fourth, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the issue of Jerusalem does not stand alone: if Israel shows even a little flexibility on this question, it will invite pressures to concede "just a little" on the issue of refugees and the crack in the dam will widen and wreak destruction on the entire Zionist enterprise.
Fifth, concessions offered in neighborhoods adjacent to Jerusalem would place the capital of Israel within range of light weapons, enable snipers to target pedestrians and return the city back to the pre-1967 days of protective walls. Today the city is already within range of missiles and rockets from Ramallah and Bethlehem; moving the attackers even closer, within the line of sight of Jerusalem, would only increase their appetite for rendering the lives of Jews unbearable. No one in Israel or beyond can assure us that a future Palestinian government will deal with these attackers efficiently, without the bother of High Court injunctions and appeals from human rights activists.
Sixth, the territory of East Jerusalem was never under Jordanian sovereignty. Hence it is impossible to argue that East Jerusalem is "occupied territory". At most this is disputed territory, to which the non-Jewish contender cannot be defined in sovereign terms since it is not a state. Accordingly, Israel has a considerable judicial advantage in seeking recognition of its annexation. Only politics is delaying this process.
The conclusion that emerges from this discussion is that a concession on Jerusalem or parts of the city constitutes surrender to a baseless Palestinian, Arab and Islamic demand and could endanger both the capital of Israel and the entire Zionist enterprise. Israel must expand and enrich Jewish residence in the historic capital of the Jewish people in order to eliminate once and forever the possibility of partitioning the city. We don't have to generate superfluous friction by placing Jews in crowded Arab neighborhoods. But housing construction in the Shepherd Hotel location is important, if only because of the link between this structure and the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who volunteered to recruit tens of thousands of Muslims for the Nazi extermination machine.
The entire city of Jerusalem should be developed on the basis of Jewish-Arab equality; interested Arab residents should be granted full Israeli citizenship. Israel should declare for all to see and hear on road signs, in official documents and in the language used by the Broadcasting Authority that the name of its capital is Yerushalaim, not Urshalim and certainly not al-Quds. The Islamic conquest of this country ended with WWI and there is no reason to perpetuate the name that desert tribes gave the eternal city of the Jewish people.- Published 27/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer in the Department of Arabic and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.