Obama’s Jerusalem Stonewall

Demanding a construction freeze in the capital reverses decades of U.S. policy
By Mortimer Zuckerman
The Wall Street Journal
April 28, 2010

Thanks to a deadlock engineered by the U.S. government, the Middle
East peace process is stalled. President Obama began this stalemate
last year when he called for a settlement freeze, and he escalates it
now with a major change of American policy regarding Jerusalem.

The president seeks to prohibit Israel from any construction in its
capital, in particular in a Jewish suburb of East Jerusalem called
Ramat Shlomo. This, despite the fact that all former administrations
have unequivocally understood that the area in question would remain
part of Israel under any final peace agreement. Objecting to any
building in this East Jerusalem neighborhood is tantamount to getting
the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem before final
status talks with the Palestinians even begin.

From the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama has undermined Israel’s
confidence in U.S. support. He uses the same term – “settlements” –
to describe massive neighborhoods that are home to tens of thousands
of Jews and illegal outposts of a few families. His ambiguous use of
this loaded word raises the question for Israelis about whether this
administration really understands the issue.

It certainly sends signals to the Palestinians. The Palestinian
Authority followed the president’s lead and refused to proceed with
planned talks until Israel stops all so-called settlement activities,
including in East Jerusalem.

President Obama’s attitude toward Jerusalem betrays a fundamental
misunderstanding of the history of the city. After Israel was
recognized as a new state in 1948, it was immediately attacked by the
combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and
Iraq. The attacks were repelled, but the Jordanians, who were asked
not to join the Egyptian war effort, conquered East Jerusalem and
separated it from its western half. In 1967, the Arab armies again
sought to destroy Israel, but it prevailed in the famous Six Day War
and reconquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula
and the Gaza Strip.

Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 to 1967, dozens of synagogues were
destroyed or vandalized. The ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of
Olives was desecrated, its tombstones used for the construction of
roads and Jordanian army latrines. The rights of Christians as well
as Jews were abused, with some churches converted into mosques.

When Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967 it built,
and has since continued to build, neighborhoods for its Jewish
residents. Palestinian Arabs have also built in Jerusalem throughout
this period. Incidentally, today there is more new Arab housing
(legal and illegal) being built than Jewish housing according to a
report by Middle East expert Tom Gross – without any criticism from
the Obama administration.

But this is all recent history: Israel’s claim over Jerusalem does
not spring from 1948 or 1967. Rather, it signifies the revival of
historic rights stemming from biblical times.

Jerusalem is not just another piece of territory on a political
chessboard: It is integral to the identity and faith of the Jewish
people. Since the city was founded by King David some 3,500 years
ago, Jews have lived there, worked there, and prayed there. During
the First and Second Temple periods, Jews from across the kingdom
would travel to Jerusalem three times a year for the Jewish holy
days, until the Roman Empire destroyed the Second Temple in 70 A.D.
That ended Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem for the next 2,000
years, but the Jews never relinquished their bond.

Jerusalem is much less embedded in Muslim culture. When Muslims pray,
they face Mecca, not Jerusalem. The Old Testament mentions Jerusalem,
or its alternative name Zion, a total of 457 times. The Koran does
not mention Jerusalem once.

Muhammad, who founded Islam in 622 A.D., was born and raised in what
is now Saudi Arabia; he never set foot in Jerusalem. And in the 1,300
years that various Islamic dynasties ruled Jerusalem, not one Islamic
dynasty ever made the city its capital. Indeed, even the National
Covenant of the PLO, written in 1964, never mentions Jerusalem. It
was only added after Israel regained control of the city in 1967.

The reality today is that in the area referred to as East Jerusalem –
that is, an area north, south and east of the city’s 1967 borders –
there are roughly a half a million Jews and Arabs living in
intertwined neighborhoods. The idea of a purely Jewish West Jerusalem
or a purely Palestinian East Jerusalem is a myth: Building in
particular neighborhoods in no way precludes the possibility of a
two-state solution.

Ramat Shlomo, the center of the most recent row, is a thriving
community of tens of thousands of Jews located between two larger
Jewish communities called Ramot and French Hill. Its growth would in
no way interfere with the contiguity of new Arab neighborhoods in
East Jerusalem. And in every peace agreement that has ever been
discussed, these areas would remain a part of Israel.

No wonder the Israelis reacted so strongly when Mr. Obama called this
neighborhood “a settlement.” For over 43 years, there has been a
tacit agreement that construction here did not constitute an obstacle
to negotiations. Thus, the new policy was seen as an Obama
administration effort to force Israel to accept the division of
Jerusalem, taking yet another negotiating card off the table for the

But what the world never remembers is what the Israelis can never
forget. When Jordan controlled the eastern part of the city,
including the Old City and the Western Wall (a retaining wall of the
ancient Temple), it permitted reasonably free access to Christian
holy places. But the Jews were denied any access to the Jewish holy
places. This was a fundamental departure from the tradition of
freedom of religious worship in the holy land, which had evolved over
centuries, not to speak of a violation of the undertaking given by
Jordan in the Armistice Agreement concluded with Israel in 1949.
Nobody should expect the Jews to risk that again.

Since Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it has faithfully protected
the rights and security of Christians, Muslims and Jews. Christians
now control the Ten Stations of the Cross; Muslims control the Dome
of the Rock. Yet the Palestinians often stone Jewish civilians
praying at the Western Wall below. Their leaders and imams repeatedly
deny the Jewish connection to Jewish holy sites. Freedom of religion
in Jerusalem should not be compromised by American policy.

That’s not all. Dividing Jerusalem would put Palestinian forces and
rockets a few miles from Israel’s Parliament. And Jewish
neighborhoods would be within range of light weapon and machine-gun
fire. This is exactly what happened after the Oslo Accords, when the
Palestinians fired from Beit Jalla toward Jerusalem’s Gilo
neighborhood, wounding scores of residents.

The vast majority of Israelis believe Jerusalem must be shared – not
divided. Even the great Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the
Oslo Accords, said in 1995: “There are not two Jerusalems; there is
only one Jerusalem.”

The final status of Jerusalem will be on the table if and when
Palestinians and Israelis talk. But Mr. Obama’s policy reversal has,
yet again, given the Palestinians every reason not to negotiate.

(Mr. Zuckerman is chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report.)

There are no comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: