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Friday, November 20, 2009

Has the Obama government misread Israeli opinion on Jerusalem?

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2009/11/has-obama-government-misread-israeli.html

Herb Keinon's Analysis: Obama's press on Gilo shows a continued misread of Israel is one of the more astute analyses of why Israel is building in Gilo, and why most Israelis are backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this issue. Anyone who thought about it could recognize immediately that the heart of the "innocent" seeming Palestinian demand to stop settlements was really the issue of Jerusalem (see Will Jerusalem be a frozen settlement? - which I wrote last May - and O! No! Jerusalem and the Settlement Freeze!). It was obvious what the Palestinians were trying to do with their "settlement freeze." But it was hard to believe that U.S. would be obtuse enough to fall for the ploy or arrogant enough to ignore Israeli opinion entirely.


Herb Keinon is absolutely on the money when he writes: ... Gilo - not in a far-flung settlement overlooking Nablus, nor even in one of the settlement blocs like Gush Etzion, nor even a Jewish complex in one of the Arab neighborhoods of the capital, but in Gilo, one of the large new neighborhoods built in the city following the Six Day War. If Israel cannot build in Gilo without US approval, than it cannot build in Ramot Eshkol, French Hill, Ramot, Neveh Yaakov, Pisgat Ze'ev, East Talpiot or Har Homa. However, the issue, as we shall see, is not quite what most Israelis - or most Americans think it is.

The Palestinians knew that by posing a demand to end "settlement construction" before resuming peace talks, they would have an iron-clad guarantee that there would never be peace talks, because Israel is not going to give up its claim to Jerusalem, certainly not before there are any negotiations, and Israel will not allow Jerusalem to be treated as a "settlement." The Palestinians don't want to negotiate peace with Israel, because they have finally understood that in negotiations, Israel will never agree to allow the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to return to Israel and turn the country into an Arab state, and Israel is not going to give up all of East Jerusalem. "Moderate" Mahmoud Abbas has stated repeatedly that the Palestinians insist on "Right" of return, insist on getting every inch of "East Jerusalem" for their capital city, and insist Israeli withdrawal to the Armistice borders of 1949. Abbas said it first, perhaps in an interview he gave in 2000, and he has never budged an inch from those positions. If they cannot obtain the destruction and dismemberment of Israel by negotiations, the Palestinian "moderates" will turn to unilateral declaration of a state or to other means to accomplish the same end. If Israel agrees to the settlement freeze, the Palestinians can use it as an admission that Israel is giving up all rights to the areas in question, and will seek to ensure that it is a permanent freeze.

Not only would the Palestinians not have to negotiate about peace, but they get an added bonus, since by refusing to agree to the conditions of the nice President Obama, Israel is seen as the "obstacle to peace."

To most Israelis, the issues are obvious. What is a wonder to me, at least, is that some of my American Jewish friends cannot understand why the bad Mr. Netanyahu is putting a monkey wrench in the machinery of peace being operated by their Nobel prize winning president, over another silly settlement. It is surprising to me because you don't have to be a religious fanatic or even Jewish to know that Jerusalem is central to the Jewish people, and has been a central national symbol for the Zionist movement (Zion is a place in Jerusalem, remember?) and modern Israel. You don't have to have much background in the history of the Middle East to understand that since the time of the Emperor Vespasian at least, whoever controls Jerusalem is considered to control the land of Israel (AKA Palestine), an idea ratified, at least in the eyes of the Muslims by the conquest of Jerusalem from the Crusaders by Salah al-din (Saladin). Our American Jewish friends might disagree, but surely they can understand the reasons. Yet one of them wrote that the construction in Gilo looks like Israel is saying,

"We don't give a sh*t what you think or how hard you want to work for peace we will do what we want to do."

The perceptions of Americans about the peace process seem to be a bit strange. Israelis lost over a thousand lives "taking risks for peace," but were are supposed to be considerate of the hard working Americans, burning the midnight bourbon in Washington, who only want us to give up our capital city, a minor sacrifice, in order to advance their political agenda. What bad, ungrateful people we Israelis are, after all Mrs Clinton and Mr. Obama did in order to bring us peace!

The lady who wrote that is not ignorant. She not anti-Zionist. She considers herself knowledgable about dialogue. Dialogue people are supposed to know how to listen. Is it possible that she was totally deaf to Israeli opinion about Jerusalem? Does it really look like that? Perhaps to this nice Jewish lady, and a lot of Americans it does. From here, it looks rather like it is the Obama administration that is saying

"We don't give a sh*t about Israeli opinion, or three thousand years of history, or decisions of the Israeli government. We are an arrogant 800 pound gorilla and we will make you do whatever we want you to do."

Herb Keinon explained the Israeli position very well, though foreigners may not grasp that for most Israelis, Ramat Eshkol and French Hill are as much a part of Israel and Israeli Jerusalem as Pennsylvania avenue is part of Washington DC for Americans. It seems probable however, that it is Keinon who is misreading the American position, rather than the Americans who are misreading the Israeli position. Not only Herb Keinon, but a lot of Israelis may have been misreading the American position on Jerusalem for a long time and have also misunderstood the actual position of the Israeli government and the actual status of Jerusalem as well.

In order for the United States to "misread" the Israeli position on Jerusalem, we would have to assume that Mr. Obama and and his advisors do not know any of the following:

1. Jerusalem was the ancient capital of the Jewish people and has been a central part of Jewish culture in exile. President Obama held a Passover Seder at which he and other attendees presumably read from the Haggadah, including the pledge at the end "Next year in Jerusalem." He had to know that for Jews, this city is not like some town in the West Bank - it is not the same as Efrat, or Ariel or even Gush Etzion.

2. A sizeable Jewish community had lived in what Palestinian Arabs like to call "Arab East Jerusalem" - inside the old city in fact, for hundreds of years before being ethnically cleansed in 1948.

3. Jerusalem does not have the same status in international law as the rest of the West Bank. The United Nations partition plan called for Jerusalem to be internationalized. It was never supposed to be part of any Palestinian Arab state. The Palestinian claims of a "right" to a capital in East Jerusalem based on "international legitimacy" are completely bogus and without foundation. Subsequent UN resolutions reaffirmed the international status of Jerusalem in law, even though it was de facto divided and the eastern part was illegally annexed to Jordan. For example, UN General Assembly Resolution 303 reaffirmed that Jerusalem is a "corpus separatum." The international status of Jerusalem - fictional as it may be, has also been recognized in security council resolutions, which have the status of international law. Therefore it is not possible that the US doesn't know that settlement construction in Jerusalem is different from settlement construction in the West Bank.

4. Mr. Obama and Mrs Clinton both must know that the The Clinton Bridging Proposalsrecognized the special status of Jerusalem and called for the Jewish neighborhoods to remain under Israeli sovereignty.

5. Presumably, even the U.S. intelligence services, admittedly not too knowledgeable about the Middle East, at least monitor the Jerusalem Day declarations of every Israeli Prime Minister, all of whom pledge that "United Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided." in those or similar words. Yithak Rabin said, in October of 1995, "First and foremost, united Jerusalem …as the capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty." Mr Obama and his team had to know that for Israelis, Jerusalem is not just another settlement. They had to know that this issue is political dynamite.

American politicians must also know that these declarations of Israeli leaders are not just political hot air on the same order as the "unbreakable bond" between the United States and Israel, to be trotted out on festive occasions. Too much blood was spilled in Jerusalem for the Israeli position to melt away in the face of political expediency.

But perhaps Israelis have also been misled by our own leaders.and have misread the situation. Most Israelis, and many others, have the impression that Israel annexed East Jerusalem either in 1967 or in 1980, when the Knesset passed the Basic Law: Jerusalem.

The 1967 laws, Law and Administration Ordinance (Amendment No. 11) Law, 1967 and Law and Administration Order (No. 1) of 28 June 1967, extended Israeli juridiction to the area added to the Jerusalem municipality, but these related to internal Israeli law and did not make any declaration regarding the international status of Jerusalem.

Likewise, the 1980 Basic Law simply declares that United Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The word "annexation" is not used, the 1948 law regarding annexation is not referenced. The law does not even mention anything about the citizenship status of non-Israeli Arabs living in Jerusalem. This is the entire law, which the government of Menachem Begin passed with so much fanfare:

1. Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.


2. Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court.

3. The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings towards those places.


4. (a) The Government shall provide for the development and prosperity of Jerusalem and the well-being of its inhabitants by allocating special funds, including a special annual grant to the Municipality of Jerusalem (Capital City Grant) with the approval of the Finance Committee of the Knesset.

(b) Jerusalem shall be given special priority in the activities of the authorities of the State so as to further its development in economic and other matters.

(c) The Government shall set up a special body or special bodies for the implementation of this section.

The law is at least very ambiguous. There is no other law that annexed east Jerusalem. Jerusalem is therefore suspended in a sort of legal vacuum in Israeli law. Even that timid attempt to assert Israeli internal jurisdiction over east Jerusalem evoked an international storm of protest. The United Nations Security Council repudiated the law in Resolution 478, a kind of backhanded admission that Israel annexed or tried to annex Jerusalem. The United States abstained; it did not veto the resolution. All foreign governments moved their embassies out of Jerusalem. The United States never had an embassy in Jerusalem. Those "enthusiasts" who are pressing for Israeli annexation of parts or all of the West Bank should take into account that is doubtful if Israel even annexed east Jerusalem, and even that is not recognized by any other government.

American leaders did not "misread" Israeli opinion. Israeli leaders, of the right as well as those of the left, are fully cognizant of international opinion and United States policy regarding Jerusalem. They know very well that the US embassy has remained in Tel Aviv, and that the United States will not register "Israel" as the country of birth of any American born there, and they know exactly why. Israeli leaders have taken it into account even while making the most adamant assertions about Jerusalem to the Israeli public.

The difference of opinion between the US and Israel regarding Jerusalem seems to be something unpleasant that in fact everyone knows, but nobody usually talks about, something like a toilet in Victorian society, or an embarrassing relative who is never mentioned in polite company. Each side jockeys for position and pushes the envelope to see how far it can be pushed. The United States knew exactly what it was doing in insisting on stopping construction in east Jerusalem, and the Netanyahu government knew exactly what it is doing by announcing construction in Gilo. Isn't it time that the Israeli public understood and admitted the real situation, and isn't it time that the American public, especially American Jews, understood how Israelis feel about Jerusalem?

Ami Isseroff

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Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2009/11/has-obama-government-misread-israeli.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.

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