We must not underestimate the serious implications of the US administration’s fierce condemnation of a routine municipal approval for construction of 1100 homes in the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo.
Although our government must find a solution to avoid trumpeting bureaucratic announcements for long-term building projects in Jerusalem, it is crucial that the global community understand that Gilo is not a settlement outpost. For 40 years, nobody other than Arabs has challenged the fact that Gilo belongs to Jewish Jerusalem. It is a 100 percent Jewish-populated suburb of southwestern Jerusalem, located minutes from the heart of the city. During the second intifada it was under sniper fire from terrorists located in the neighboring Arab suburb of Beit Jala. Gilo is as much part of Jerusalem as the suburbs of Rehavia or Katamon. To deny that Gilo is part of Israel is akin to denying that Tel Aviv is part of Israel.
It is simply inconceivable to even hint that Obama’s 1967 borders formula means that we are obliged to “negotiate with the Palestinians” over Gilo. It would challenge the residential rights of 300,000 Jews in the entirely Jewish populated areas of Jerusalem over the Green Line such as Ramat Eshkol, Pisgat Zeev, Ramot and French Hill. These Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, illegally occupied between 1948 and 1967 by the Jordanians who made the area Judenrein, would be up for grabs or “negotiable.” No mainstream Zionist political party would be willing to negotiate over these areas.
This US condemnation is magnified by the fact that it took place in the immediate aftermath of the defamatory address at the UN General Assembly by the intransigent Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. He refused to compromise on anything, reiterated his determination never to recognize a Jewish state and even denied the historical association of the Jewish people with the Holy Land. He hypocritically accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” employing terms such as “racist” and “apartheid” despite his earlier proclamations that not a single Jew would be permitted to live in the new Palestinian state. He boasted that he would reunite with Hamas whose Charter remains committed to the destruction of Israel and explicitly calls on the faithful to murder all Jews. We are repeatedly warned that Abbas is the best peace partner we will ever get, but at times like this we should remind ourselves that his Moscow University Ph.D. thesis was a justification of Holocaust denial.
The Gilo construction hysteria coincides with delicate diplomatic maneuvers at the UN Security Council arising from the Palestinian abrogation of the Oslo Accords. We need US support to ensure that the fallout from this does not inflict major damage on us. For example, some European countries will undoubtedly place us in the dock again when we refuse to accept the replacement of UN Resolution 242 by a formula in which the 1949 armistice lines (with swaps dependent on Palestinian acquiescence) become the new benchmark for negotiations. That would impose on us the indefensible 1967 borders with even significant sections of Jewish Jerusalem and the Temple Mount excluded from Israel.
In addition, many European nations will not demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which is linked with forgoing the Arab refugee right of return to Israel – an existential threat for us.
It is to be expected that the US government may criticize or have occasional differences with us. But during such a sensitive period, the vicious public condemnation of Israel over construction of homes in its own capital is hardly how one would expect the US to behave towards an ally. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who as a senator had supported recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, even went so far as to accuse Israel of being “provocative.”
Immediately following Netanyahu’s endorsement of the Quintet’s plan to renew peace talks, newly appointed US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made barbed comments that Israel was “isolating” itself and implied that it was to blame for the deterioration of relations with Turkey and Egypt.
Not surprisingly, the Europeans interpret such remarks as encouragement to intensify their pressure against us. EU Foreign Policy Spokesperson Catherine Ashton demanded that Israel revoke the construction permits. The French Foreign Minister followed suit. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the pack, informing the media that she condemned Netanyahu and “raised doubts over the Israeli government’s readiness to begin serious negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Despite his charm offensive toward President Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded that the future of the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem had never been influenced by outside parties and would not be subject to such in the future. He noted that substantial Arab construction plans had been simultaneously approved.
The US administration’s passive stance as the Europeans continue pressurizing us is therefore highly detrimental. Especially as the Palestinians believe that in return for US opposition to their efforts at the UN, they can leverage the Obama administration to extract further unilateral concessions in their ongoing campaign to dismantle the Jewish state. Hopefully most Americans who have become increasingly enraged by the one-sided pressures against the Jewish state will not accept Obama’s UN speech as the last word on the matter.
Indeed, on a bi-partisan level, Congress has now taken the first step in responding to Palestinian intransigence by blocking nearly $200 million of aid to the Palestinians. This move was in direct response to the PA breach of the Oslo Accords and dismissal of US demands to negotiate with Israel. The House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees have indicated that funding would remain suspended until the question of Palestinian statehood at the UN had been settled.
In this environment it is crucial that American Jewish leaders and friends of Israel raise their voices against efforts to transform Jewish Jerusalem into a negotiating issue. To date, of the major Jewish organizations, only the Zionist Organization of America has publicly condemned the US administration on this issue.
ADL’s Abe Foxman was one of the few Jewish leaders courageous enough to speak up and condemn Obama’s Israel-bashing at the early stages. In a recent letter to The Jerusalem Post he accused me of not praising Obama’s positive initiatives towards Israel despite my having done so on many occasions. The ADL, on the other hand, together with many other Jewish establishment bodies have been too quiet in the face of Obama’s biased diplomatic forays against Israel. One hopes that he, and other Jewish leaders, will again display the courage to publicly denounce the administration over its condemnation of housing construction in Jewish Jerusalem.
If the Jewish response to this issue remains muted, it will serve to strengthen those in the US administration who are determined to maintain the ongoing policy of appeasing the Palestinians at Israel’s expense. More importantly, the pressure on the administration to follow up on Obama’s dazzling UN speech will evaporate, and the speech will be reduced to nothing other than an electoral ploy to attract Jewish and pro-Israeli Americans to the Democratic camp.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post