On the day after the United Nations General Assembly passed the resolution recognizing Palestine as an observer state, including East Jerusalem and borders based on the pre-1967 lines, Israel announced plans to build additional housing in and around Jerusalem and in the West Bank. The Obama administration responded quickly with a series of condemnations. Several European countries, including France, Britain, Spain, Sweden and Denmark, summoned the Israeli ambassadors to their countries to protest Israel's decisions. Blind to the implications of the General Assembly's full-throated endorsement of the Palestinian Authority's maximalist position on all major issues that were supposed to be negotiated bilaterally under the terms of the Oslo Accords, the international community rose up in anger against Israel for supposedly jeopardizing the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution.
In addition to claiming that building more housing in Jerusalem and the West Bank would "set back the cause of a negotiated peace," as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it last Friday, what apparently upset the Obama administration and European governments the most was Israel's announcement that it would proceed with preliminary zoning and planning preparation for possible housing construction in a mountainous location known as E1. This 4.6 square mile area connects Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim that is located about four miles to the east of Jerusalem. E1 is mostly empty today, with some Bedouin inhabitants but no major Palestinian population centers. A district headquarters of the Israeli Police Department has been located there since 2008.
Actual construction within the E1 area would not take place, if at all, for several years. However, just the mention of E1 sets off alarms in Washington and European capitals. They see it as a red line that could derail prospects for a two state solution for good, because major Israeli construction on land linking the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement directly with Jerusalem would prevent Palestinian construction between what the Palestinians claim to be their capital - East Jerusalem - and Ramallah. It would not, however, cut the West Bank into two non-contiguous areas as some have claimed. With a series of bypass roads constructed by Israel, Palestinians will have access to East Jerusalem and north-south contiguity in the West Bank.
Israelis see the development of E1 as strategically important to defending the security of Jerusalem, because it gives them the high ground to protect their citizens below. Israel's enemies have repeatedly used higher ground they controlled to terrorize Israeli civilians. It would also provide Jewish citizens living in the suburban Jerusalem settlement with safe contiguous access to the city of Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, Israel has held off building residential housing on E1 for more than a decade in response to U.S. and international pressure.
As noted, the pressure again is mounting after the Israeli government's latest announcements.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner stated on Monday that the United States opposed "all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in east Jerusalem.” He singled out Israel's announcement regarding E1 as “especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”
In conjunction with summoning the Israeli ambassador for a tongue-lashing, Laurent Fabius, France's Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued the following statement:
The Israeli ambassador was reminded that France condemns Israeli settlement activity in all its forms. Settlement activity is illegal under international law, undermines the trust necessary for the resumption of dialogue and constitutes an obstacle to a just peace based on the two-state solution.
Construction in the E1 area would seriously undermine the two-state solution by isolating Jerusalem, which is destined to become the capital of both states, from the West Bank, and by threatening the territorial contiguity and viability of the future Palestinian state.
We urge the parties to the peace process to refrain from any gesture that might complicate the swift and unconditional resumption of the negotiations, which we’ve been calling for.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is standing firm this time, in spite of international pressure once again to back down. Israel has had enough of the international community's hypocrisy.
An official in Prime Minister Netanyahu's office, who was not authorized to speak to the media on the record, explained that the international community had guaranteed the Palestinians' agreements with Israel that were violated by the General Assembly Palestinian status resolution approved by the international community. “Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made,” he said as quoted by the Washington Post.
When Palestinians and international community interlopers refer to "East Jerusalem," they are including the old portion of Jerusalem (the Old City), where ancient holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are located. In voting to adopt the General Assembly resolution last week upgrading the Palestinians' status in the UN to an observer state, France and 137 other member states of the international community voted yes on the resolution's declaration that "East Jerusalem" is to be part of the Palestine state. In other words, the permanent division of Jerusalem into two parts, with Palestine obtaining full control of the holy sites, would be a done deal under the resolution they approved. So would the setting of the border between Israel and Palestine at the pre-1967 armistice lines.
Jerusalem was historically an undivided city until Jordan illegally seized control of the eastern portion in 1948 and annexed it.
When Jordan was in control of what then became known as "East Jerusalem," the Jordanians immediately expelled the Jewish residents there. Virtually all Jewish synagogues were destroyed. Access to the holiest sites of Judaism was denied to Jews who simply wanted to worship there. Snipers on the Old City walls fired on residents of Jewish neighborhoods below.
After 1967, Jews returned to their homes and to their holy sites, but worshipers of other faiths were also given full access to their holy sites which were administered by representatives of those faiths. The Temple Mount, which, despite being the holiest site in Judaism, remained under the administration of a Muslim council. Meanwhile, the Arab population in Jerusalem has increased. And a poll conducted in late 2010 indicated that more Arabs living in East Jerusalem would prefer to be Israeli citizens than citizens of a Palestinian state.
Israel has every right to fear what will inevitably ensue if the Palestinians are rewarded with East Jerusalem as their capital. The Palestinians have already indicated that, if and when they gain sovereignty over their "capital" of East Jerusalem, they will take steps to de-Judaize it. That is a code word for re-playing the ethnic cleansing that Jordan practiced, and denying Jews unimpeded access to their holy sites. Israeli civilians living in the western portion of Jerusalem will once again become targets of snipers, as well as of the rockets launched from Gaza by Hamas.
What is left to be negotiated under the arrangement the international community endorsed last week at the General Assembly? Limited visiting hours to pray at the Western Wall? How many synagogues will be razed? How fast Israeli families who returned to their homes after the 1967 War or who purchased their homes from Arab owners must evacuate or be evicted?
By its actions last week at the United Nations, the "international community" once again turned its back on the right of the Jewish people to live securely on the sliver of land that is their historic home. Israel has every legal and moral right to respond accordingly.
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