“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” President Obama said Tuesday at a press conference in Indonesia. He was referring to approvals issued in Israel this week to build 1300 homes in two East Jerusalem neighborhoods.
That is, 1300 homes for Jews. Obama would have had no problem if the announced homes had been designated for Arabs—or anyone other than Jews.
As the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial, the country—Indonesia—in which Obama made his remark is one that forbids Israeli citizens to visit. Indonesia is also one of 19 UN member states that do not recognize Israel as a state, and it does not allow overflights by Israeli aircrafts.
One could say, then, that in counterposing Jewish homes in Jerusalem to peace, Obama was not encouraging the best side of the Indonesian national ethos.
He wasn’t the only one to object to the Israeli plans, of course. In a de rigueur eruption that is almost dreary to record, the State Department said it was “deeply disappointed” and that the plans were “counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the [Israelis and Palestinians].” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton pronounced herself “extremely concerned,” and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also “expressed concern.”
The pertinacious Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat chimed in that the new construction plans proved that “Israel chooses settlements, not peace.”
As the Wall Street Journal also observed, it was Erekat who recently sent an admiring letter to Ahmed Sa’adat, a terrorist who masterminded the murder of an Israeli cabinet minister in 2001. Erekat warmed Sa’adat’s Israeli jail cell with “the strongest emotions of solidarity and brotherhood…. You exhibited steadfast resistance that has become the stuff of legend, during which many martyrs fell.”
The cabinet minister in question, Rehavam Zeevi, was shot twice in the head at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem on October 17, 2001. The assassin was from the PFLP terror organization, then headed by Sa’adat, and was directly dispatched by him.
Think about it: no slap on the wrist—no reaction at all—for Erekat from Obama, Ashton, Ban, or anyone else for his tribute to Sa’adat, no protestations that this wasn’t in the spirit of peace; and yet another public upbraiding of Israel, a country already subject to a worldwide delegitimization campaign, for the building plans.
If there was a bright spot in this episode, it was that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in replying to Obama’s words, showed—at least initially—more spunk in a way that is hard not to connect with last week’s Democratic debacle at the polls. Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying that:
Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. Israel has never accepted upon itself restrictions of any kind on construction in Jerusalem, which has approximately 800,000 residents….
Israel sees no connection between the diplomatic process and planning and building policy in Jerusalem, which has not changed in 40 years. All Israeli governments in the past 40 years have built in all parts of the city. During this period, peace agreements were signed with Egypt and Jordan, and for 17 years, diplomatic negotiations have been conducted with the Palestinians. These are historical facts. Construction in Jerusalem has never hindered the peace process.
Yet, unfortunately, in a later interview with Fox Business News, Netanyahu already softened the message, calling the issue “overblown” and saying: “you are talking about a handful of apartments that really don’t affect the map at all contrary to impressions that might be perceived from certain news reports. So it’s a minor issue that might be turned to a major issue.”
In fact, the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem is a major issue in any case. In repeatedly calling it into question, Obama strikes at the heart of Jewish being and sows fear and distrust in the large majority of Israelis—exactly contradictory to his presumed desire to advance peace talks and Israeli concessions. In that regard, paradoxically, he is doing some good, as more Israelis understand that the concessions required of them would be suicidal.
As for the other side, Obama’s words can only encourage Muslims, whether in Indonesia or Judea and Samaria, in visions of Judenfrei Jerusalem and the worst supremacist tendencies.