Commentary Magazine


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Obama Renews Assault on Jewish Jerusalem

The Obama administration renewed its attack on Jewish Jerusalem today by formally condemning the construction of apartments in part of the city. The approval last week of a housing project in the Har Homa neighborhood of the city was blasted by the State Department as being contrary to the peace process and an impediment to the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians.

But like previous statements from the administration, the complaint about apartments in Har Homa has little to do with the moribund peace process and everything to do with an Obama policy decision to treat the hundreds of thousands of existing Jews living in parts of Israel’s capital as being no different from the most remote hilltop settlements in the West Bank. Despite the rhetoric from Washington, Har Homa isn’t up for grabs in a theoretical peace deal, and housing there won’t stop a two-state solution if the Palestinians ever decide they want one. What it is an obstacle to is an effort to rip Jerusalem apart and to evict Jews from their homes.

While no American government has ever recognized Israeli sovereignty over all of the city since it was reunified during the 1967 Six-Day War, only Obama has sought to exploit divisions about this issue in such a way as to weaken the Jewish state’s hold on its capital.  During the past two years, Obama has personally injected himself into this issue to try and undermine Israel’s position in Jerusalem. The 2010 spat in which the administration disingenuously tried to claim Vice President Biden was insulted by another Jerusalem building project was a lever by which Obama sought to pressure the Netanyahu government into agreeing to suspend all building in the city. The prime minister rightly refused, and to Obama’s consternation, was supported by the overwhelming majority of Israelis. It is true that Har Homa, a project that began in the 1990s, has always been a point of contention between the U.S. and Israel. But the notion control of this land will ever be conceded to the Palestinians is absurd.

Though apologists for Palestinian intransigence claim Israel’s building in Jerusalem is a blow to a potential two-state solution, this is utterly false. The Palestinians know if there is to be an accord, the Israelis won’t be leaving Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Treating those parts of the city illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as “Arab territory” in which Jews may not build or live is a non-starter. Though a negotiation might theoretically give a Palestinian state control of some Arab sections of the city, it will not give them places like Har Homa or any of the other place where Jews are building.

Moreover, for the United States to seek to curb home building in Jerusalem at the very moment when Israelis are calling for a greater supply of housing in order to lower the high existing prices is ridiculous. Doing so would not only be against Israel’s security needs but a blow to its economy.

The Palestinians also argue Har Homa must be taken from the Israelis because it would give them a strategic edge along the city’s southern border and give them easier access to other parts of Jerusalem. But their call for territorial contiguity is merely an excuse to avoid talks.  The West Bank and Gaza are already separated by pre-1967 Israel. Contiguity for the Palestinians would mean an end to Israeli security as well as an unconscionable abrogation of Jewish rights in their ancient capital.

Today’s announcement may be seen as the administration throwing a bone to the Palestinians to bribe them to give up their effort to evade peace talks by asking the United Nations to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. But statements such as these only encourage more intransigence.  So long as the Palestinians are allowed to nurture their ambition to take Jerusalem from Israel, peace will be unattainable. By condemning the building of Jewish homes in Har Homa, the Obama administration has poured more fuel on the fire of the conflict and once again staked out a position that undermines America’s alliance with Israel.