Israel plans to step up the building of residences within the settlement blocs and—drawing particular ire—in parts of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian occupation from 1949 to 1967. The Jerusalem plans include housing for both Jews and Arabs.
In this holiday season, those plans should be cause for rejoicing instead of heightened rebukes. The city’s status as a hub of three religions, and also of tolerance, pluralism, and across-the-board demographic growth, is being strengthened.
Instead, official Western reactions have been harshly critical (reports here, here, and here).
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action.” The French Foreign Ministry called the building plans “a provocation that further undermines…trust…and leads us to question Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution.” British foreign secretary William Hague called the plans “a serious provocation and an obstacle to peace.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton even hinted at repercussions, saying the EU would “closely monitor the situation…and act accordingly.”
And 14 of the 15 countries on the UN Security Council—with the U.S. as the only exception—issued condemnations as well. Four of them—Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal—said in a joint statement that they were “extremely concerned by, and strongly opposed, the plans…all settlement activity, including in east Jerusalem, must cease immediately.”
It should be noted that, except the U.S., all of the abovementioned countries either voted aye or abstained in last month’s UN General Assembly vote conferring a watered-down form of statehood on the Palestinian Authority. It was partly in reaction to the Palestinians’ move, which blatantly violated the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords that the EU once sanctioned, that Israel announced the new building plans.
Israel, though, couldn’t win. It couldn’t persuade the European states to oppose the Palestinian move; and once it reacted to the move, it was roundly condemned.
Israel was particularly disappointed by Germany’s abstention in the UN vote, after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had seemed to be intending to vote nay. Germany, as already mentioned, then joined three other countries in demanding that even “East Jerusalem”—where 200,000 Jews now live, 40 percent of Jerusalem’s total Jewish population—be treated as a Jew-free zone.
Beyond these specific points, though, stands the ongoing spectacle of the world’s leading Western powers seeming to pine for a redivided Jerusalem, this time with the Palestinians ruling the Jew-free part. Even if a Palestinian sovereign entity were to arise in the West Bank, “Ramallah,” as David Solway notes in his new book, “…is a good enough Palestinian capital.” Why, then, the insistence on East Jerusalem?
It doesn’t seem reasonable that Washington, London, Paris, Berlin et al. would be nostalgic for the previous period of Muslim Arab rule over that part of the city. The Jordanian occupation was particularly hard on Jews, who were denied all access to their holy sites while Jordanian snipers fired repeatedly into the Jewish part of the city. But the Christians under Jordan’s control suffered as well, their number dwindling from 25,000 in 1949 to 10,000 in 1967 as they were given only paltry access to their holy sites and forced to teach the Koran in their church schools (accounts here and here).
Would it be better under the Palestinians? Not if one takes Bethlehem—where the Palestinian Authority has wielded autonomy since late 1995—as a test case. Palestinian Muslim control there has caused ongoing steep demographic decline for the town’s Christians as they suffer from terror, intimidation, land theft, sexual assault, forced marriages, and the like (accounts here, here, and here)—not surprisingly in light of the continuing severe persecution of Christians throughout the region.
Indeed, however eager the West is for Palestinian rule in East Jerusalem, it turns out that even the predominantly Muslim Palestinians there don’t want it. As Evelyn Gordon notes, the numbers of these Palestinians requesting Israeli citizenship has dramatically climbed in recent years. Polls find that, even if the Palestinian state was established, most East Jerusalem Palestinians would prefer to remain Israeli.
Considering that the Palestinians’ supposed desire to shake off Israeli rule is a shibboleth of Western diplomacy, one might ask why that would be so. But anyone who has been both to Israel and the Palestinian Authority—one is tempted to say, anyone but Western diplomats—knows that the former is an island of Western democracy, prosperity, tolerance, and pluralism in a harsh region. Jerusalem Palestinians, exposed to those upsides since Israel reunited the city in 1967, have come to know their worth.
As Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat put it in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed,
Since  the city has maintained freedom of access, movement and religion. Peace-seeking pilgrims of all faiths can again visit the holy places without limitation or restriction. Tourism to Jerusalem is thriving, as is the city’s economy, and its per capita crime rate is among the world’s lowest….
Isn’t it ironic that many in Europe who recently celebrated 25 years of the reunification of Berlin are at the same time calling for the division of another capital on another continent?
And as Barkat went on to ask: “By 2030, the city’s population will expand to one million residents from 800,000 today (33% Muslim, 2% Christian and 65% Jewish). Where does the world suggest we put these extra 200,000 residents?”
If the answer is, “Put them where you want, but make sure you keep some parts off-limits to Jews,” Israel’s answer is: no.
Peace and goodwill to all.
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