Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jerusalem

They’d Rather Walk Than Live with Israel

What was Jerusalem’s Arab population doing when Hamas fired rockets at the holy city in the last week? According to stories in both the New York Times and the Times of Israel, the answer was clear: they cheered even though they were in as much, if not more, jeopardy than their Jewish neighbors.

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What was Jerusalem’s Arab population doing when Hamas fired rockets at the holy city in the last week? According to stories in both the New York Times and the Times of Israel, the answer was clear: they cheered even though they were in as much, if not more, jeopardy than their Jewish neighbors.

Both stories brought to mind the memory of Palestinians taking to their rooftops in 1991 to cheer Iraq’s shooting of SCUD missiles at Israel during the first Gulf War. The spectacle of Jews being forced to run to bomb shelters when the air raid sirens began to wail is something that cheers their enemies who are frustrated about Israel’s relative wealth and power. But what makes these stories so poignant isn’t just the fact that Hamas rockets don’t differentiate between Jews and Arabs. It’s that their hostility toward Israel seems to be more important than their own wellbeing and any desire to improve their economic lot.

The quotes from Jerusalem Arabs about their indifference to the possibility of being harmed by Palestinian rockets sound remarkably similar to those uttered by Gazans who have heeded Hamas’s call to act as human shields for the terrorists. Of course, thanks to the Iron Dome missile defense system, this was just rhetoric. But their words provided more evidence of the implacable hate for Jews and Israelis that is felt by most of the Arabs. Just as Palestinians mocked the plight of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers last month on social media and in demonstrations aimed at thwarting rescue efforts that proved futile after the trio were murdered, Jerusalem’s Arabs think there is something meritorious in Hamas’s practice of firing indiscriminately at crowded cities.

Such attitudes are the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East since it demonstrates that polls that indicate widespread Palestinian support for efforts to continue the struggle against Israel’s existence are not mistaken.

Yet, as New York Times bureau chief Jodi Rudoren discovered when she decided to investigate Arab sentiment about the light rail line that connects Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in the capital, Jerusalem’s Arabs would rather see improvements like the railroad destroyed than benefit from cooperation with Israel.

Days after they celebrated the murder of the three Israeli teens, Jerusalem Arabs rioted after a group of Jewish hooligans murdered an Arab teenager in a revenge attack. Rather than sense the futility of these horrors, Palestinians believed the death of one of their own required them to up the ante in terms of violence even though Israel’s government and the overwhelming majority of its people condemned the crime. But rather than just demonstrate, they attacked the light rail line and destroyed stations and infrastructure that had been built to service their community.

While rioters generally don’t think rationally, the targeting of the rail stations seems premeditated and aimed at proving the point. For decades since Jerusalem’s unification in 1967, the municipality has underserved its Arab neighborhoods. But the creation of the light rail system, which was inaugurated in 2011, was part of an effort to provide services to Arabs and connect them to the rest of the city in a way that would obviously boost their economy. Yet, as Rudoren writes, it’s clear that the Arab population resented it as a symbol of “occupation.” By occupation, they are not merely referencing the unification of the city under Israeli rule or even that of the West Bank but the Jewish state’s existence. Thus, it was hardly surprising that mobs would burn down the Shuafat and Es-Sahl stations and reduce the line’s 23 stops to 16, meaning that many Arabs no longer have access to rail transportation.

That’s a small price to pay for Arabs who clearly regard the continuation of the war against Zionism as a higher priority than the prosperity of Jerusalem’s Arabs. But this isn’t the first time such a choice has been made.

The rejection of the light rail has precedents going back to the 1930s when Palestinian Arabs rejected and sought to destroy the country’s new electricity grid that had been constructed by the Jewish community. Just as one Arab social worker who used to take the light rail told Rudoren that he would rather walk than go on using a symbol of Israel’s permanence, then some Arabs preferred to go without electricity. When international philanthropists purchased the greenhouses being left behind by Jewish settlers in Gaza after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal so as to benefit local Arabs, the structures were burned to the ground within hours by those who were supposed to profit from them.

Israelis who have given up on the peace process to the dismay of foreign friends who believe this is wrong are simply dealing with reality. Stories like these show that despite the focus on the details of peace talks and negotiations about borders, peace will require more than a signed piece of paper. Though peace processers keep reassuring us that “everyone knows” what a solution to the conflict looks like, the statements made by Jerusalem’s Arabs—people who have had more opportunity to live around Jews and benefit from Israeli prosperity and democracy than others in the West Bank and Gaza—paint a depressing picture of what it will really take. Nothing short of a change of heart on the part of Palestinians who cling to hopes of Israel’s destruction and have been so inculcated in hate that they cannot see the humanity of people who live in their own city will make peace possible. Until then Jerusalem Arabs prefer to walk.

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Israel and Its Arabs: Rockets, Riots, and the Dream of Coexistence

One age-old critique of Israeli deterrence, self-defense, and unwillingness to give away the store in negotiations with the Palestinians was psychological: didn’t Israeli leaders realize, it was asked (rhetorically), how they were radicalizing a new generation of Palestinian youth, who only knew “occupation?” I often would wonder why these same voices didn’t ask the reverse question: what if a generation of Israelis grew up in a time of recurring intifadas and ceaseless rocket fire, condemning Israeli youth to PTSD and burdened by an instinct to constantly look over their shoulder? How might such a generation feel about its Arab neighbors?

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One age-old critique of Israeli deterrence, self-defense, and unwillingness to give away the store in negotiations with the Palestinians was psychological: didn’t Israeli leaders realize, it was asked (rhetorically), how they were radicalizing a new generation of Palestinian youth, who only knew “occupation?” I often would wonder why these same voices didn’t ask the reverse question: what if a generation of Israelis grew up in a time of recurring intifadas and ceaseless rocket fire, condemning Israeli youth to PTSD and burdened by an instinct to constantly look over their shoulder? How might such a generation feel about its Arab neighbors?

Of course, neither argument is a legitimate defense of violence. The importance of personal responsibility in the Middle East cannot be reiterated enough. Whatever the pretext, whatever the grievance, the conflict would spiral completely out of control if the affected population decided contempt and vengefulness were sufficient cause for vigilantism. And Israelis should (and generally do) know better than to say, “well, the other side does it.” But those who would blame Israeli policies for the “radicalization” of Palestinian youth should take a look at the other side of that equation, and be consistent. The New York Times delves into the topic today.

In an article about Israeli soul searching after the murder of an Arab teen last week, the Times makes yet another foray into the world of moral equivalence but ends up undermining its own point. After all, the Times did not also write an accompanying article about Palestinian or Israeli-Arab soul searching. Nonetheless, even if such soul searching is one-sided, it is welcome. No society should desensitize itself to the murder of children.

The Times then tries to pin Israeli radicalization on the religious right, but accidentally stumbles upon a different point. The reporter discovers that religious leaders are condemning such violence in no uncertain terms and discouraging their followers from even contemplating it. The Times goes looking for another factor, and finds one:

Tamir Lion, an anthropologist who studies youth, said he was troubled by the changing attitudes among Israel’s young people. For many years, Mr. Lion interviewed soldiers about why they chose to enter combat units. “The answers,” he said on Israel Radio, “were always about the challenge, to show I could make it, the prestige involved.”

That began to change in 2000, he said. “I started to get answers — not a lot, but some — like: ‘To kill Arabs.’ The first time I heard it, it was at the time of the large terror attacks, and since then it has not stopped.”

A generation has grown up in a period of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with suicide bombs and military incursions, rocket fire and airstrikes. Young people on both sides may think about the other more as an enemy than as a neighbor.

Those who blamed Israel for radicalizing Palestinian youth could do so freely because they never thought Israeli youth could be radicalized in sufficient numbers to expose their hypocrisy. They might now be wondering if they were wrong.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think they were: Israeli youth may be resentful of the Palestinians who have tried to kill them since the day they were born, but the rare vigilantism will likely remain rare. In part, that’s because of such soul searching. When Israelis go missing, the entire nation holds its breath. When a gruesome hate crime is carried out, Israelis wonder what went wrong.

And that’s what makes this current conflict so worrying for Israelis. It was epitomized by the scene of Arab rioters in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat destroying a light-rail train station built to connect them with the rest of the city. The symbolism was impossible to ignore. As Jonathan Schanzer told the Free Beacon:

The total destruction of the modern light rail—which was seen as a symbol of coexistence between Israeli and Arab areas of Jerusalem—is evidence of mounting frustration among Israeli Arabs, who have increasingly clashed with Israeli police as tensions reach a boiling point following the murders.

“These are Arab-Israelis in Jerusalem, and they destroyed a multi-million dollar project that connected them to the rest of the city,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “This is apartheid, self imposed.”

Israelis know Hamas and its supporters want an unending genocidal war against the Jews. But they believe that Israel’s Arabs want what they want: peace, safety, coexistence. When Israel’s Arabs destroy symbols of such coexistence, when they explicitly reject Jewish Israelis’ overtures, they raise the concern that the coexistence they prize is illusory, a time bomb with an exposed fuse.

Another intifada, or something like it, would reinforce this concern. And Israelis who see–and deplore–the rise in anger and mistrust after the last intifada know how precarious that coexistence will be if each generation grows up with its own intifada. And they’re all too aware of the limits of soul searching if they’re the only ones engaging in it.

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Is the International Consensus on Jerusalem Fracturing?

Today much of Israel’s capital Jerusalem is regarded by the international community as “illegally occupied territory.” In fact ever since the Jewish state’s establishment some sixty-six years ago no country has fully recognized Israel’s claim to Jerusalem; not one has an embassy in the city. Yet the consensus against the Israeli presence in north, south, and east Jerusalem has become more robust in recent decades. Prior to the onset of the Oslo peace process, not only was the position of the United States far from clear on this matter, but even far-left Israeli groups such as Peace Now were adamantly insisting that Jerusalem would remain the rightfully undivided capital of the Jewish state. After some two decades of negotiations it might be said that Israel’s legitimacy in general, and its claim to its capital in particular, have both been greatly weakened.

Yet now it would appear that there has been a radical and bold break with the international consensus: Australia has announced that it will no longer refer to East Jerusalem as “occupied territory.” Tony Abbott’s government has put out an uncompromising statement of intent, informing the world that, “The description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful. It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiation in such judgmental language.” This announcement is made all the more significant on account of the fact that back in January Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop publicly disputed the notion that Israel’s settlements should be considered illegal either.

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Today much of Israel’s capital Jerusalem is regarded by the international community as “illegally occupied territory.” In fact ever since the Jewish state’s establishment some sixty-six years ago no country has fully recognized Israel’s claim to Jerusalem; not one has an embassy in the city. Yet the consensus against the Israeli presence in north, south, and east Jerusalem has become more robust in recent decades. Prior to the onset of the Oslo peace process, not only was the position of the United States far from clear on this matter, but even far-left Israeli groups such as Peace Now were adamantly insisting that Jerusalem would remain the rightfully undivided capital of the Jewish state. After some two decades of negotiations it might be said that Israel’s legitimacy in general, and its claim to its capital in particular, have both been greatly weakened.

Yet now it would appear that there has been a radical and bold break with the international consensus: Australia has announced that it will no longer refer to East Jerusalem as “occupied territory.” Tony Abbott’s government has put out an uncompromising statement of intent, informing the world that, “The description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful. It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiation in such judgmental language.” This announcement is made all the more significant on account of the fact that back in January Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop publicly disputed the notion that Israel’s settlements should be considered illegal either.

The move by the Australians couldn’t have come at a more sensitive time. Just as Canberra is breaking ranks with the international consensus that opposes the Israeli presence in eastern Jerusalem, that consensus is itself hardening. In recent days both the United States and the European Union have mounted vocal protest against Israeli plans to build new homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem. This is an astounding response that exposes the full extent of the hostility toward the Jewish state that emanates from both the EU and the Obama administration. For while the newly formed Hamas-backed Palestinian government has received endorsement from both the White House and the Europeans, building homes for Jews in the ancient Jewish holy city of Jerusalem has provoked a degree of condemnation out of all proportion with reality.

The State Department has said that it is “deeply disappointed” by these moves and the U.S. ambassador to Israel has also expressed words of protest, but typically the Europeans have gone much further still. A statement from the EU demanded that Israel reverse this decision and even alluded to the threat of sanctions in retaliation for this “settlement activity.” In response the Israeli government claimed to be “mystified” that “there are those in the international community who claim that construction in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and in other places that the Palestinians know will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any future arrangement is a step that we must reverse.”

The double standards displayed by diplomats who can at once welcome a move that brings an internationally recognized terrorist organization into coalition with the Palestinian Authority, while at the same time condemning the building of homes for Jews in Jerusalem, may be disgraceful, but sadly it is anything but mystifying. For years now–ever since the Camp David talks of 2000–Israel has been expressing a willingness to give up large parts of its capital, including some of Judaism’s most historic and holy sites, despite the fact that Israeli law fully considers all of Jerusalem sovereign Israeli territory.

If Israelis have not been willing to vocally and uncompromisingly assert their rights to their own undivided capital before the court of world opinion, then it is hardly surprising if those who don’t have much love for the Jewish state have taken this as a cue to further delegitimize Jewish rights in Jerusalem. Both the Europeans and the Obama administration insist that they are friends of Israel, but if Israelis want to know what real friends look like then they can look to Stephen Harper’s government in Canada and now to Tony Abbott’s in Australia. The decision to no longer refer to East Jerusalem as “occupied territory” is a bold and brave move that displays a degree of moral clarity that one could barely imagine coming from Obama’s State Department and certainly not from London’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Ideally, the move by the Australians will be repeated by other governments, but if nothing else it calls into question the attitude in Europe that holds the illegality of the Israeli presence in north, south, and east Jerusalem to be an open and shut case.

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The Dangerous Divided Jerusalem Fantasy

On this date in the Hebrew calendar 47 years ago, Israeli forces ended the division of Jerusalem. The city had been split during the Arab siege of the capital in 1948 and it remained cut in half by an ugly wall as well as by dangerous no-man’s-land zones. The victory in the Six-Day War ended an illegal occupation of the eastern portion of the city as well as the walled Old City by Jordan that had lasted for 19 years but was not recognized by the world. In breaking down the barriers, the Israelis not only reunited the city but opened access to its religious shrines—including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount—which had been off limits for Jews during the Jordanian occupation. But as Israelis celebrated what is known as “Jerusalem Day” today, support for the push to reinstate the division of the city in the international community has grown. Every Middle East peace plan proposed in the last 15 years, including the three Israeli offers of statehood that the Palestinians turned down, included a new partition of Jerusalem even though both sides remain murky about how that could be accomplished without reinstating the warlike atmosphere that prevailed before June 1967.

But for those who believe that such a partition is essential to peace, the process by which a city that has grown exponentially in the last five decades, with Jews and Arabs no longer neatly divided by a wall, could be split is merely a matter of details. To fill in the blanks for its readers, Haaretz published a Jerusalem Day feature that provided the answer to the question. Highlighting a complicated scheme put forward by a Jerusalem architectural firm, the paper asserted that most Jerusalemites wouldn’t even notice the difference if their city was re-partitioned. On the surface the plan, which has been funded by a variety of left-wing sources, seems practical if complicated and expensive. But it is not only completely unrealistic; it is based on a fantasy that the real problem in Jerusalem is primarily one of engineering, aesthetics, and logistics. Like every other element of other utopian peace plans that are sold to both the Israeli and Western publics as the solution that “everybody knows” must eventually happen, this vision of Jerusalem ignores the fundamental problem of peace: the fact that the Palestinians don’t want it.

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On this date in the Hebrew calendar 47 years ago, Israeli forces ended the division of Jerusalem. The city had been split during the Arab siege of the capital in 1948 and it remained cut in half by an ugly wall as well as by dangerous no-man’s-land zones. The victory in the Six-Day War ended an illegal occupation of the eastern portion of the city as well as the walled Old City by Jordan that had lasted for 19 years but was not recognized by the world. In breaking down the barriers, the Israelis not only reunited the city but opened access to its religious shrines—including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount—which had been off limits for Jews during the Jordanian occupation. But as Israelis celebrated what is known as “Jerusalem Day” today, support for the push to reinstate the division of the city in the international community has grown. Every Middle East peace plan proposed in the last 15 years, including the three Israeli offers of statehood that the Palestinians turned down, included a new partition of Jerusalem even though both sides remain murky about how that could be accomplished without reinstating the warlike atmosphere that prevailed before June 1967.

But for those who believe that such a partition is essential to peace, the process by which a city that has grown exponentially in the last five decades, with Jews and Arabs no longer neatly divided by a wall, could be split is merely a matter of details. To fill in the blanks for its readers, Haaretz published a Jerusalem Day feature that provided the answer to the question. Highlighting a complicated scheme put forward by a Jerusalem architectural firm, the paper asserted that most Jerusalemites wouldn’t even notice the difference if their city was re-partitioned. On the surface the plan, which has been funded by a variety of left-wing sources, seems practical if complicated and expensive. But it is not only completely unrealistic; it is based on a fantasy that the real problem in Jerusalem is primarily one of engineering, aesthetics, and logistics. Like every other element of other utopian peace plans that are sold to both the Israeli and Western publics as the solution that “everybody knows” must eventually happen, this vision of Jerusalem ignores the fundamental problem of peace: the fact that the Palestinians don’t want it.

The conceit of the divided Jerusalem scheme is that the old “green line” that once cut through the city as well as the West Bank is alive and well. Since the second intifada, Jews largely avoid Arab sectors of the city and Arabs do the same in Jewish sections. The only problem then is how to “soften” the appearance of a division so as to codify the reality of a divided city without actually reinstating the ugly and perilous military fortifications that served as the front lines for the Arab-Israeli wars from 1949 to 1967.

There is some truth to the notion that Jerusalem is currently divided in this manner. But it is a fallacy to assert that it is anything as absolute as the authors of the plan and their media cheerleaders claim. Contrary to the notion popularized by the terminology used by the media, there is no real east or west Jerusalem. The city is built on hills with much of the “eastern” section actually in the north and south where Jewish neighborhoods on the other side of the green line have existed for over 40 years. The idea that this can all be easily sorted out by handing out the Jewish sections to Israel and the Arab ones to “Palestine” won’t work.

It is a falsehood to assert that 40 percent of Jerusalemites can’t vote in municipal elections. Residents of Arab neighborhoods could vote but don’t. If they did participate they would hold real power, but for nationalist reasons they choose to boycott the democratic process and the result is that they have been shortchanged. While current Mayor Nir Barkat opposes division of the city, he has rightly argued that Israel has to do better in serving Arab neighborhoods because with sovereignty comes responsibility. But what the plan’s authors also leave out of the equation is that a division would deprive many of these same Arabs of their employment and health coverage since a great number work on the Israeli side or get their medical treatment there. Will they give that up for Palestine? Just as when the security barrier was erected, many Arabs will clamor to stay on the Israeli side of any divide for obvious reasons.

Left unsaid in the piece is the fact that there are actually a number of interlocked Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Nor does it explain how the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus (which was isolated as a Jewish enclave during the Jordanian occupation) could be reached from what they propose to be Israeli Jerusalem or how Jerusalemites could access the scenic Sherover/Haas promenade in the city. And those are just a few of the anomalies that go unsolved or unanswered in a scheme that treats transportation patterns and border security as if they were mere blots on the map rather than avoidable facts.

There’s also no mention here about how security in this intricately divided city could be administered. Would Israelis really be prepared to cede the security of their capital to foreign forces? Could peace monitors be relied upon to respect Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish neighborhoods if they become, after peace, the object of a new intifada whose purpose would be to chip away at the rump of the Jewish state?

Nor is there any reason to believe the newly partitioned city would be one in which religious freedom at the holy places would be respected, especially since the Arab side of the new wall will almost certainly be declared a Jew-free zone by the Palestinian Authority and its Hamas allies/antagonists.

Just as important, rather than allowing a city that has grown by leaps and bounds to continue to thrive, a new partition would create more than political barriers. It would strangle the city’s economy, a common fate for all divided cities. That is something that would damage both Jews and Arabs.

But even if we were to concede that all these problems could be somehow miraculously worked out to the satisfaction of all sides, one big obstacle remains to the implementation of this plan: Palestinian cooperation. This is, after all, pretty much the same plan that Ehud Olmert offered to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in 2008. Abbas fled the negotiating table rather than be forced to respond to a plan that would have involved recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Compromise is always possible when both sides desire an outcome in which each will get some but not all of what they want. But so long as Palestinian national identity is still inextricably linked with the war on Zionism, no plan, no matter how reasonable sounding, can work.

It is telling that although groups dedicated to co-existence liberally funded the partition plan, there is not one Palestinian Arab architect associated with it. That is not an accident. Had the Palestinians wanted to accept a divided Jerusalem as part of their new state they could have had one in 2000, 2001, 2008, or even this year had they chosen to negotiate seriously with a Netanyahu government that was already prepared to cede most of the West Bank. But they didn’t take it and there’s no indication that they will change their mind anytime soon.

The obstacle to dividing Jerusalem isn’t one of aesthetics or engineering or even the problem of drawing a border in a place that causes the least harm to both sides. It is about a conflict that won’t be resolved until the Palestinians give up their fantasy of eradicating the Jewish state. When that happens, then perhaps utopian designs such as this one will be feasible and Israelis will be willing to give up their rightful to claim to all of their historic capital and share sovereignty. But until then, the only point of such plans is to undermine Jewish claims to the city in a manner that undermines hope for peace.

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Welcoming the Pope with Lies About Israel’s Christians

I’m a longtime fan of the Wall Street Journal. But I confess to mystification over why a paper with a staunchly pro-Israel editorial line consistently allows its news pages to be used for anti-Israel smear campaigns–and I do mean smear campaigns, not just “critical reporting.” A classic example was its assertion in an April 7 news report that Israel had agreed “to release political prisoners” as part of the U.S.-brokered deal that restarted Israeli-Palestinian talks last summer. The Journal was sufficiently embarrassed by this description of convicted mass murderers that it issued a correction in print, yet the online version still unrepentantly dubs these vicious terrorists “political prisoners.”

A more subtle example was last week’s report titled “On Middle East Visit, Pope Will Find a Diminished Christian Population.” While Israel is the glaring exception to this Mideast trend, reporter Nicholas Casey elegantly implies the opposite in a single sentence that’s dishonest on at least three different levels: “Syria has seen an exodus of nearly half a million Christians, and in Jerusalem, a population of 27,000 Christians in 1948 has dwindled to 5,000.”

First, while Casey never says explicitly that Jerusalem’s shrinking Christian population reflects the situation in Israel as a whole, it’s the obvious conclusion for the average reader–especially given the juxtaposition with Syria, which implies that both countries are treating their Christians similarly and thereby causing them to flee. This impression is reinforced by the only other statistic he gives about Israel: that Christians have declined as a percentage of the total population.

The truth, however, is that Israel’s Christian population has grown dramatically–from a mere 34,000 in 1949 to 158,000 in 2012, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. That’s an increase of almost fivefold. And while Christians have fallen as a share of the total population, that’s mainly because they have significantly lower birthrates than either Israeli Jews or Israeli Muslims.

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I’m a longtime fan of the Wall Street Journal. But I confess to mystification over why a paper with a staunchly pro-Israel editorial line consistently allows its news pages to be used for anti-Israel smear campaigns–and I do mean smear campaigns, not just “critical reporting.” A classic example was its assertion in an April 7 news report that Israel had agreed “to release political prisoners” as part of the U.S.-brokered deal that restarted Israeli-Palestinian talks last summer. The Journal was sufficiently embarrassed by this description of convicted mass murderers that it issued a correction in print, yet the online version still unrepentantly dubs these vicious terrorists “political prisoners.”

A more subtle example was last week’s report titled “On Middle East Visit, Pope Will Find a Diminished Christian Population.” While Israel is the glaring exception to this Mideast trend, reporter Nicholas Casey elegantly implies the opposite in a single sentence that’s dishonest on at least three different levels: “Syria has seen an exodus of nearly half a million Christians, and in Jerusalem, a population of 27,000 Christians in 1948 has dwindled to 5,000.”

First, while Casey never says explicitly that Jerusalem’s shrinking Christian population reflects the situation in Israel as a whole, it’s the obvious conclusion for the average reader–especially given the juxtaposition with Syria, which implies that both countries are treating their Christians similarly and thereby causing them to flee. This impression is reinforced by the only other statistic he gives about Israel: that Christians have declined as a percentage of the total population.

The truth, however, is that Israel’s Christian population has grown dramatically–from a mere 34,000 in 1949 to 158,000 in 2012, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. That’s an increase of almost fivefold. And while Christians have fallen as a share of the total population, that’s mainly because they have significantly lower birthrates than either Israeli Jews or Israeli Muslims.

Second, even his statistics on Jerusalem are dubious. Since he doesn’t source them, it’s not clear how Casey arrived at his figure of only 5,000 Christians nowadays. But the most recent figure published by Israel’s internationally respected statistics bureau, in 2013, put the city’s Christian population at 14,700 as of the end of 2011. It is, to say the least, highly unlikely that after remaining stable at about that level for 44 years (more on that in a moment)–decades punctuated by repeated wars, vicious terrorism and deep recessions–the Christian population would suddenly plunge by two thirds in a mere two years at a time of strong economic growth and very little terror.

Third, while Jerusalem’s Christian population has undeniably plummeted since 1948 even according to Israel’s statistics, Casey neglects to mention one very salient point: The entirety of that decline took place during the 19 years when East Jerusalem–where most of the city’s Christians live–was controlled by Jordan rather than Israel. By 1967, when Israel reunited the city, Jerusalem’s Christian population had fallen by more than half, to just 12,646, from Casey’s 1948 figure (which does roughly match other available sources). Since then, it has actually edged upward, to 14,700.

Throw in the de rigueur innuendos that the Palestinian Authority’s declining Christian population is mainly Israel’s fault, and Casey’s verbal Photoshop job is complete: The one country in the Middle East whose Christian population is growing and thriving–a fact increasingly acknowledged by Israeli Christians themselves–has been successfully repackaged to the average reader as a vicious persecutor that is driving its Christians out.

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Blaming Israel to Preserve a Theory

Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

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Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

It cannot be emphasized enough that most of the discussion about the settlements from administration sources and their cheerleaders in the press is not only wrongheaded but also deliberately misleading. A perfect example of that comes today in David Ignatius’s column in the Post in which he writes:

The issue of Israeli settlements humiliated the Palestinian negotiators and poisoned the talks, according to statements by U.S. negotiators. When Israel announced 700 new settlements in early April, before the April 29 deadline for the talks, “Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry told a Senate panel.

Phrased that way it certainly sounds egregious. But Israel didn’t announce the start of 700 new settlements. It authorized 700 new apartments in Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that no one, not even the Palestinians expects would be given to them in even a prospective peace treaty more to their liking than the Israelis. Israel has built almost no new “settlements,” i.e. brand new towns, villages, or cities in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and claiming anything different isn’t just wrong, it’s a deliberate attempt to poison the atmosphere against the Jewish state. Later in the day, the Post corrected that line to read “settlement apartments,” but the intent to deceive on the part of Ignatius was clear.

More to the point, both Ignatius and the latest op-ed mislabeled as a news story by Times White House correspondent Mark Landler note their narratives of Israeli perfidy but fail to highlight that it was Netanyahu who agreed to Kerry’s framework for further peace talks and Abbas who turned the U.S. down. It was Abbas who refused to budge an inch during the talks even though Israel’s offers of territorial withdrawal constitute a fourth peace offer including independence that the Palestinians have turned down in the last 15 years. His decision to embrace Hamas in a unity pact rather than make peace with Israel sealed the end of Kerry’s effort, not announcements of new apartments in Jerusalem.

The reason for this obfuscation is not a mystery. Acknowledging the truth about the collapse of the talks would force Kerry and his State Department minions to admit that their theory about how to achieve peace has been wrong all along. It was primarily the Palestinians’ refusal to make the symbolic step of recognizing that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people that would live in peace alongside a nation state of the Palestinian people that sunk the talks. But acknowledging that would mean they understood that the political culture of the Palestinians—in which national identity is inextricably tied to rejection of Israel’s existence—must change before peace is possible. Israel, which has already made large-scale territorial withdrawals in the hope of peace, has already dismantled settlements and would uproot more if real peace were to be had. Moreover, since most of the building that Kerry and company blamed for the lack of peace are located in areas that would be kept by Israel, the obsession with them is as illogical as it is mean-spirited.

Just as the Clinton administration whitewashed Yasir Arafat and the PA in the ’90s, so, too, did the Obama crew whitewash his successor Abbas’s incitement and refusal to end the conflict. The result is that the Palestinians believe there will never be any serious consequences for rejecting peace. Throughout the Kerry initiative, Obama and the secretary praised Abbas while reviling Netanyahu but rather than nudging the Palestinians to make peace, it only encouraged them to refuse it. But if the U.S. is ever to help move the Middle East closer to peace, it will require honesty from the administration about the Palestinians and for it to give up its settlement obsession. Seen from that perspective, it was Kerry and Indyk who did as much to sabotage the process as Abbas, let alone Netanyahu. But instead, Obama, Kerry, and Indyk refuse to admit their faults and continue besmirching Israel to their friends in the press. Sticking to a discredited theory is always easier than facing the truth, especially about your own mistakes.

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The Grave Threat of Zivotofsky’s Passport to the Peace Process

Now that the Supreme Court has agreed in Zivotofsky v. Kerry to decide the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth, it bears reiterating that President Obama did not need to make this a federal case, and that he could still take the same approach President Clinton did in 1994, when Congress passed a law allowing Americans born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” on their passports rather than “China.”  

Clinton enforced the law, but declared that America’s “One China” policy (recognizing only the People’s Republic of China) remained unchanged. Obama could uphold the law regarding Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport, but declare that the policy that Jerusalem’s status is subject to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remains unchanged. Case closed! It is not clear why this should present a problem: the State Department website identifies Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; so does the CIA website; the Department of Defense website features a 2009 picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting in “Jerusalem, Israel,” a 2012 picture of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey with Israeli President Peres in “Jerusalem, Israel,” and Secretary Hagel’s 2013 statement at his meeting with Netanyahu in “Jerusalem, Israel.” 

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Now that the Supreme Court has agreed in Zivotofsky v. Kerry to decide the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth, it bears reiterating that President Obama did not need to make this a federal case, and that he could still take the same approach President Clinton did in 1994, when Congress passed a law allowing Americans born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” on their passports rather than “China.”  

Clinton enforced the law, but declared that America’s “One China” policy (recognizing only the People’s Republic of China) remained unchanged. Obama could uphold the law regarding Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport, but declare that the policy that Jerusalem’s status is subject to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remains unchanged. Case closed! It is not clear why this should present a problem: the State Department website identifies Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; so does the CIA website; the Department of Defense website features a 2009 picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting in “Jerusalem, Israel,” a 2012 picture of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey with Israeli President Peres in “Jerusalem, Israel,” and Secretary Hagel’s 2013 statement at his meeting with Netanyahu in “Jerusalem, Israel.” 

So what’s the big deal about letting Zivotofsky reflect on his own passport–as is his right under a federal statute–what the State Department, the CIA, and the Defense Department all include on their websites: the fact that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for more than 60 years? The Obama administration’s brief filed in February, opposing Zivotofsky’s petition to have the Supreme Court hear the case, asserted that “grave foreign-relations and national-security consequences” would have resulted from a lower court decision in Zivotofsky’s favor, but the same brief acknowledges that the law affects only a “very small number of people” born in Jerusalem who might avail themselves of the option offered by the law. 

What were those grave consequences? The brief asserted that putting “Israel” on the passports of Zivotofsky and the “very small number” of other people would have “risked ‘caus[ing] irreversible damage’ to the United States’ ability to further the peace process in the Middle East.” 

Seriously? Irreversible damage? Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport is an obstacle to peace?  

Since the passage of the 2002 passport law, the damage to the peace process–most of it irreversible–has included: (1) the Palestinians’ failure in 2003 to dismantle their terrorist groups, as they promised; (2) the election of Hamas in 2006 to control the Palestinian parliament, which no longer functions; (3) the conversion of Gaza in 2007 to a terrorist mini-state that has conducted two rocket wars on Israel (so far); (4) the rejection in 2008 of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem; (5) the refusal in 2009-10 to negotiate with Israel even during an unprecedented ten-month construction freeze; (6) the repeated attempts by the so-called Palestinian “peace partners” to “reconcile” with the terrorist group that rules Gaza; (7) repeated Palestinian breaches of their obligation not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the legal status of the disputed territories; (8) incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel in media and schools, including grotesque, anti-Semitic portrayals and blatantly false assertions of “history”; (9) the complete failure to establish the rule of law, or even hold an election, and the abrupt dismissal of the non-corrupt Palestinian prime minister (Salam Fayyad); and (10) multiple declarations by the Palestinian “president,” now in the 10th year of his four-year term, that the Palestinians will “never” recognize a Jewish state.  

Meanwhile the Obama administration is fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid putting “Israel”–not “Jerusalem, Israel,” just “Israel”–on the passport of a 12-year-old American boy born in Jerusalem, lest the “peace process” suffer “irreversible damage.” Seriously.

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Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.

“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?

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Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.

“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?

The answer is simple. Kerry doesn’t want to blame the Palestinians for walking out because to do so would be a tacit admission that his critics were right when they suggested last year that he was embarking on a fool’s errand. The division between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza has created a dynamic which makes it almost impossible for Abbas to negotiate a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even if he wanted to.

Since Kerry hopes to entice the Palestinians back to the talks at some point, blaming Israel also gives him leverage to demand more concessions from the Jewish state to bribe Abbas to negotiate. Being honest about the Palestinian stance would not only undermine the basis for the talks but also make it harder to justify the administration’s continued insistence on pressuring the Israelis rather than seek to force Abbas to alter his intransigent positions.

Seen in that light, Kerry probably thinks no harm can come from blaming the Israelis who have always been the convenient whipping boys of the peace process no matter what the circumstances. But he’s wrong about that too. Just as the Clinton administration did inestimable damage to the credibility of the peace process and set the stage for another round of violence by whitewashing Yasir Arafat’s support for terrorism and incitement to hatred in the 1990s, so, too, do Kerry’s efforts to portray Abbas as the victim rather than the author of this fiasco undermine his efforts for peace.

So long as the Palestinians pay no price for their refusal to give up unrealistic demands for a Jewish retreat from Jerusalem as well as the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants and a refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and end the conflict, peace is impossible no matter what the Netanyahu government does. Appeasing them with lies about Israel, like the efforts of some to absolve Arafat and Abbas for saying no to peace in 2000, 2001, and 2008, only makes it easier for the PA to go on saying no. Whether they are doing so in the hope of extorting more concessions from Israel or because, as is more likely, they have no intention of making peace on any terms, the result is the same.

Telling the truth about the Palestinians might make Kerry look foolish for devoting so much time and effort to a process that never had a chance. But it might lay the groundwork for future success in the event that the sea change in Palestinian opinion that might make peace possible were to occur. Falsely blaming Israel won’t bring that moment any closer. 

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The Wall Compromise and the “Judaizers”

When Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed the creation of a pluralist prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last year, there was good reason for skepticism that the scheme would be stopped long before it became a reality. However, the Muslim Wakf that controls the Temple Mount overlooking the Wall hasn’t—at least not yet—tried to stop any construction in the area, as I feared they might. The Orthodox group that currently administers the Western Wall plaza   also seems content to let the plan go forward because Sharansky’s plan to create three separate sections allows them to retain control over the men’s and women’s sections. That would, at least in theory, shunt non-Orthodox Jews who want egalitarian services at the Wall into the Robinson’s Arch section that is currently not accessible from the main plaza.

This is a deft compromise that deserves to be put into effect as soon as possible. Israelis may not care much about religious pluralism, but the spectacle of women seeking to pray in the manner of Reform or Conservative Jews being arrested at the Wall undermines the notion that it belongs to all of the Jewish people rather than just the Orthodox and hurts Israel’s image among non-Orthodox Jews in America. But the announcement that the Robinson’s Arch area that will be set aside for the egalitarians will be administered by the City of David Foundation is causing some to wonder whether the Israeli government is backing away from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to support Sharansky’s pluralist vision. The Foundation has run the City of David archeological park outside the Old City walls. It is identified with the nationalist/settler cause and is assumed, not unreasonably, to support the Orthodox in the debates about pluralism.

This move contradicts Sharansky’s plan that sought to place the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall under the control of a pluralist council. As such, the involvement of the City of David Foundation casts doubt on the future of the plan to change the Wall plaza. If those fears are confirmed, the Israeli government should revoke the Foundation’s control of the area. But criticisms of the move haven’t been limited to worries about pluralism. Left-wing activist Emily Hauser wrote today in the Forward not merely to condemn the decision about the Wall but to slam the Foundation as “Judaizers” who should not be allowed near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But while supporters of pluralism may see her article as validating their concerns, they should be wary of conflating the argument about the Wall with Hauser’s agenda that seeks to divide Jerusalem. While leftists may distrust the Foundation’s motivation in rescuing ancient Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, they need to remember there is no such thing as “Judaizing” Israel’s ancient capital.

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When Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed the creation of a pluralist prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last year, there was good reason for skepticism that the scheme would be stopped long before it became a reality. However, the Muslim Wakf that controls the Temple Mount overlooking the Wall hasn’t—at least not yet—tried to stop any construction in the area, as I feared they might. The Orthodox group that currently administers the Western Wall plaza   also seems content to let the plan go forward because Sharansky’s plan to create three separate sections allows them to retain control over the men’s and women’s sections. That would, at least in theory, shunt non-Orthodox Jews who want egalitarian services at the Wall into the Robinson’s Arch section that is currently not accessible from the main plaza.

This is a deft compromise that deserves to be put into effect as soon as possible. Israelis may not care much about religious pluralism, but the spectacle of women seeking to pray in the manner of Reform or Conservative Jews being arrested at the Wall undermines the notion that it belongs to all of the Jewish people rather than just the Orthodox and hurts Israel’s image among non-Orthodox Jews in America. But the announcement that the Robinson’s Arch area that will be set aside for the egalitarians will be administered by the City of David Foundation is causing some to wonder whether the Israeli government is backing away from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to support Sharansky’s pluralist vision. The Foundation has run the City of David archeological park outside the Old City walls. It is identified with the nationalist/settler cause and is assumed, not unreasonably, to support the Orthodox in the debates about pluralism.

This move contradicts Sharansky’s plan that sought to place the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall under the control of a pluralist council. As such, the involvement of the City of David Foundation casts doubt on the future of the plan to change the Wall plaza. If those fears are confirmed, the Israeli government should revoke the Foundation’s control of the area. But criticisms of the move haven’t been limited to worries about pluralism. Left-wing activist Emily Hauser wrote today in the Forward not merely to condemn the decision about the Wall but to slam the Foundation as “Judaizers” who should not be allowed near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But while supporters of pluralism may see her article as validating their concerns, they should be wary of conflating the argument about the Wall with Hauser’s agenda that seeks to divide Jerusalem. While leftists may distrust the Foundation’s motivation in rescuing ancient Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, they need to remember there is no such thing as “Judaizing” Israel’s ancient capital.

Many Israelis are opposed to efforts to create space for Jews to live in what are now predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. But treating the area in Silwan that the group rescued from neglect and transformed into an archeological park that allows visitors to see the remnants of King David’s Jerusalem as an “illegal settlement” is outrageous. It is one thing to support a two-state solution and even to imagine that parts of Jerusalem will be part of a putative Palestinian state. But when Jews employ the term “Judaizers” to denigrate those who honor the Jewish history of the city they are adopting the language of anti-Zionism, not peace.

It should be remembered that all of Israel is the product of similar efforts to recover the history of the ancient homeland of the Jewish people that had been either erased or forgotten during centuries of foreign rule. That’s why Palestinian nationalism has always sought to deny Jewish history, especially in Jerusalem. It’s disturbing that some on the left have remained silent about the shocking vandalism of artifacts by the Wakf while condemning the efforts of those who have worked to preserve and protect the ancient Jewish heritage of the city.

The Sharansky plan for the Western Wall is worth fighting for, and if the City of David Foundation is an obstacle to that effort they should not be allowed to administer Robinson’s Arch. But their work at the City of David deserves praise, not condemnation. Whatever American Jews think about the peace process, they should avoid confusing their justified concerns about pluralism and the Wall with arguments about dividing Israel’s capital. Jerusalem is a city of both Jews and Arabs, but its ancient history is proof of Jewish ties that run deep in its history as well as the hearts of Jews everywhere.

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Abbas and the False Hope of Peace

The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

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The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

A shift on the Palestinian stance on refugees would mean a lot. As long as the PA holds onto its demand for the so-called “right of return” for refugees and their descendants, it means their goal remains Israel’s eradication. Similarly, recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn would also herald a redefinition of Palestinian nationalism from a creed rooted primarily in rejection of Zionism to one oriented toward developing their own nation.

But even in this seemingly positive statement, Abbas left himself plenty of wriggle room. Saying that he doesn’t wish to “flood” Israel doesn’t mean he’s renounced the right of return. How many Arabs constitute a flood? The answer is amorphous much in the same way previous comments by Abbas have hinted at a change without really delivering it. The point being that nothing short of a concrete renunciation of this longstanding demand means anything.

But let’s assume for a moment that Abbas is actually interested in giving up the right of return. If he were to make such an earth-shaking turnabout, is it remotely possible that he would do so while speaking to an Israeli audience rather than to a gathering of his own people in their own language? The answer is no.

As it was with Arafat, who would say to Western reporters he had chosen peace with Israel while telling Palestinians that all he had done was to sign a temporary truce that would be followed by more conflict, Abbas is also playing a double game. Far from echoing Abbas’s moderate statements to the Israeli students, the Palestinian media continues to broadcast and publish a never-ending stream of incitement against Jews and Israel in which terrorism is praised. Indeed, as Palestine Media Watch noted, Abbas has recently personally praised acts of terror against Israeli students.

The same point applies to his pledge not to divide Jerusalem since in the same address he told the Israelis that he would never allow Israel to control the Western Wall, let alone the Temple Mount in the capital’s Old City. In other words, even in the unlikely event of a peace treaty, worship at Judaism’s most sacred places would be dependent on Fatah goodwill rather than Jewish rights.

Another key obstacle to peace is the same one that deterred Kerry’s predecessors from attempting to revive the talks with Israel: Hamas. Though Abbas pretends that the terrorist rulers of Gaza will go along with any agreement he strikes with the Israelis, they continue to exercise a veto over peace that will deter him in much the same way Arafat knew that his signature on a treaty would be a death warrant.

So what is Abbas doing?

It’s not much of a mystery. The Palestinian leader is orchestrating a campaign aimed at diverting Western attention from a negotiating stance based on intransigence rather than moderation. Just as Arafat’s occasional statements about peace distracted both the Western media and the government of the United States from the actual policies he was pursuing as well as the rejectionist culture he had further entrenched via his media and the schools run by the PA, Abbas is trying to do the same thing. In this case, it is part of a game of chicken he’s been playing with Israel’s government to avoid blame for Kerry’s inevitable failure.

Israel should remain open to the possibility that someday the Palestinians will undergo the sort of sea change that will enable their leaders to embrace peace with Israel. But until that actually happens, both the Jewish state and its American ally should ignore Abbas’s deceptions.

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To Stand or to Kneel?

Aryeh Cohen, a leading voice in the left-wing Jewish social justice movement, has pointed out a hypocrisy on the left that has baffled some Jewish conservatives for a while. He doesn’t stand with Women of the Wall–a liberal organization in Israel looking to establish egalitarian prayer rights at the Western Wall (Kotel)–because it is seeking to advance Jewish rights in an area not only “occupied,” but where an Arab neighborhood once stood. In other words: how can Jewish liberals promote Jewish egalitarianism in a place they don’t even believe Jews should be?

Beyond the particular question of egalitarianism, Cohen’s article in Sh’ma in fact speaks to the wider issue of American Jewish liberal treatment of Israel. How are the competing claims of Jews and Arabs to be decided? “In some other world in which peace and justice reign, and nobody harbors any agendas aside from bettering the good of all,” Cohen writes, “everybody would be able to pray together, or as they wished, at the Western Wall or on the Temple Mount itself.” Unfortunately, as Cohen points out–and many conservatives would agree–this is not currently possible. The conclusion seems, then, that for now the will of one side must prevail over that of the other. The problem is that the American Jewish left believes the side that should prevail is that of the Arabs. If only one side of this conflict can pray on the Temple Mount, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have access to the Kotel, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have sovereignty in parts or all of the Land of Israel, they say, it must be the Arabs.

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Aryeh Cohen, a leading voice in the left-wing Jewish social justice movement, has pointed out a hypocrisy on the left that has baffled some Jewish conservatives for a while. He doesn’t stand with Women of the Wall–a liberal organization in Israel looking to establish egalitarian prayer rights at the Western Wall (Kotel)–because it is seeking to advance Jewish rights in an area not only “occupied,” but where an Arab neighborhood once stood. In other words: how can Jewish liberals promote Jewish egalitarianism in a place they don’t even believe Jews should be?

Beyond the particular question of egalitarianism, Cohen’s article in Sh’ma in fact speaks to the wider issue of American Jewish liberal treatment of Israel. How are the competing claims of Jews and Arabs to be decided? “In some other world in which peace and justice reign, and nobody harbors any agendas aside from bettering the good of all,” Cohen writes, “everybody would be able to pray together, or as they wished, at the Western Wall or on the Temple Mount itself.” Unfortunately, as Cohen points out–and many conservatives would agree–this is not currently possible. The conclusion seems, then, that for now the will of one side must prevail over that of the other. The problem is that the American Jewish left believes the side that should prevail is that of the Arabs. If only one side of this conflict can pray on the Temple Mount, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have access to the Kotel, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have sovereignty in parts or all of the Land of Israel, they say, it must be the Arabs.

This sentiment crosses the border of self-effacement into the region of self-hatred. To insist that the Jews owe so much to others and are themselves owed nothing is to ask of one’s tribe to be nothing more than a doormat. Such an analogy might describe much of Jewish history, yet now that, thanks to the achievements of the modern State of Israel, it may no longer be applicable, the American Jewish left is prescribing it. If rights are to clash in the Middle East, they declare, the Jews should sacrifice theirs. This, we are told, is “justice.”

We are also told it is “peace”–thus compounding the perverseness of these liberals’ recommendations. If the route to reconciliation in the Middle East is through the elevation of one side’s claims over the other’s, is peace likely to emerge from Arab hegemony, under which Jews are denied most rights (including, as it happens, the right to pray on the Temple Mount, which is administered by an Arab authority), or through Jewish democracy, where Arabs are afforded maximal rights?

(Those who contest this last point are referred to Cohen’s admission that “Nothing in Israel, or in the Middle East, is disconnected from anything else,” yet these issues are treated by North American Jews as if they “exist in a vacuum.”)

The Jewish left may think that the answer to Israel’s problems is to go back to the 1940s. Others, though, think “peace and justice” might come a different way.

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The Big Problem in Jerusalem Isn’t the Jews

In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

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In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

At the heart of this conundrum is an error in Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s story. In an effort to give some historical background to the dispute, she writes the following:

In 2000, a visit by Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s opposition leader, accompanied by 1,000 police officers, prompted a violent outbreak and, many argue, set off the second intifada.

Many may argue that, but it is a flat-out lie. As figures within the Palestinian Authority have long since publicly admitted, the intifada was planned by then leader Yasir Arafat long before Sharon took a stroll on the site of the Temples around the Jewish New Year. The intifada was a deliberate strategy in which Arafat answered Israel’s offer of an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem that would have included the Temple Mount. The terrorist war of attrition was intended to beat down the Israelis and force them and the United States to offer even more concessions without forcing the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Sharon’s visit was merely a pretext that has long since been debunked.

Rudoren deserves to be roasted for passing along this piece of propaganda without even noting the proof to the contrary. But the problem here is more than just an error that shows the way she tends to swallow Palestinian lies hook, line, and sinker. That’s because the significance of the Sharon story lies in the way, Palestinian leaders have used the Temple Mount for generations to gin up hate against Israelis.

It bears pointing out that almost from the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise, those seeking to incite an Arab population that might regard the economic growth that came with the influx of immigrants as a good thing used the mosques on the Mount to whip up anti-Jewish sentiment. The pretext for the 1929 riots in which Jews were attacked across the country and the ancient community of Hebron was wiped out in a pogrom was a false rumor about the mosques being attacked. Arafat used the same theme to gain support for his otherwise inexplicable decision to tank the Palestinian economy in his terrorist war. Similarly, inflammatory sermons given in the mosques have often led to Muslim worshippers there raining down rocks on the Jewish worshippers in the Western Wall plaza below.

Israelis can argue about whether restoring even a minimal Jewish presence on the Temple Mount is wise. Some Orthodox authorities have always said that due to doubt about the presence of the Temple’s most sacred precincts no Jew should step foot on the plateau, although that is a point that seems less salient due to recent archeological discoveries. Others believe that any effort to contest Muslim ownership of the site converts a territorial dispute into a religious or spiritual one and should be avoided at all costs.

But, like so many internal Jewish and Israeli debates, these arguments miss the point about Arab opinion. As with other sacred sites to which Muslims lay claim, their position is not one in which they are prepared to share or guarantee equal access. The Muslim view of the Temple Mount is not one in which competing claims can be recognized, let alone respected. They want it Jew-free, the same way they envision a Palestinian state or those areas of Jerusalem which they say must be their capital.

It is in that same spirit that the Wakf has committed what many respected Israeli archeologists consider a program of vandalism on the Mount with unknown quantities of antiquities being trashed by their building program. Since they recognize no Jewish claim or even the history of the place, they have continued to act in this manner with, I might add, hardly a peep from the international community.

Thus while many friends of Israel will read Rudoren’s article and shake their heads about Israeli foolishness, the real story in Jerusalem remains the Palestinians’ unshakable determination to extinguish Jewish history as part of their effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. In the face of their intransigence and the fact that such intolerance is mainstream Palestinian opinion rather than the view of a few extremists, the desire of many Jews to visit a place that is the historic center of their faith (the Western Wall is, after all, merely the vestige of the Temple’s outer enclosure) doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

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Boycotting Ariel Not About Justice or Peace

In this week’s Forward, venerable columnist Leonard Fein imagines he will elicit gasps of shock from his readers when he suggests that they should boycott the city of Ariel. He writes that he can do so in good conscience because there is nothing inherently immoral about boycotts and because shunning Ariel, its people, institutions, and commerce is a blow struck for justice and the cause of peace. He’s right that boycotts can sometimes be appropriate if not a moral imperative. But he’s dead wrong about giving a small city filled with ordinary law-abiding Jews, synagogues, schools, and businesses the same treatment previous generations gave Nazi Germany or segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Doing so is not only morally obtuse, it also has not the slightest thing to do with peace.

Fein is pushing on an open door when he suggests there’s something controversial about boycotts. Boycotts that are rooted in moral indignation against a specific policy whether it is Nazi racism, American segregation, Soviet refusal to allow Jews to emigrate, or apartheid were all defensible boycotts since they were aimed at highlighting injustice that could be corrected. But boycotts that are themselves the product of a spirit of discrimination are less defensible. For example, the Arab boycott of Israel and the efforts of the BDS campaign—which aims at isolating it via boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, is rooted in a desire to eradicate the Jewish state, not to reform it.

Those who oppose the building of Jewish communities in the West Bank feel they constitute an obstacle to peace. That is an argument that is undermined by the fact that the Palestinians make few distinctions between the Jews who live in their midst and those in the settlements that were built on the other side of the 1949 cease-fire lines. But if there is to be a two-state solution to the conflict, do Fein and those who agree with him really think peace will be bought by dismantling Ariel? Is he prepared to take the same position about those Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are also on the other side of the old “green line?” Seen in that light, it’s hard to see his attitude toward Ariel as anything but an expression of political venom directed against Israelis whose politics he doesn’t like. Whatever the merits of his arguments about settlements, such a boycott has nothing to do with justice or peace.

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In this week’s Forward, venerable columnist Leonard Fein imagines he will elicit gasps of shock from his readers when he suggests that they should boycott the city of Ariel. He writes that he can do so in good conscience because there is nothing inherently immoral about boycotts and because shunning Ariel, its people, institutions, and commerce is a blow struck for justice and the cause of peace. He’s right that boycotts can sometimes be appropriate if not a moral imperative. But he’s dead wrong about giving a small city filled with ordinary law-abiding Jews, synagogues, schools, and businesses the same treatment previous generations gave Nazi Germany or segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Doing so is not only morally obtuse, it also has not the slightest thing to do with peace.

Fein is pushing on an open door when he suggests there’s something controversial about boycotts. Boycotts that are rooted in moral indignation against a specific policy whether it is Nazi racism, American segregation, Soviet refusal to allow Jews to emigrate, or apartheid were all defensible boycotts since they were aimed at highlighting injustice that could be corrected. But boycotts that are themselves the product of a spirit of discrimination are less defensible. For example, the Arab boycott of Israel and the efforts of the BDS campaign—which aims at isolating it via boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, is rooted in a desire to eradicate the Jewish state, not to reform it.

Those who oppose the building of Jewish communities in the West Bank feel they constitute an obstacle to peace. That is an argument that is undermined by the fact that the Palestinians make few distinctions between the Jews who live in their midst and those in the settlements that were built on the other side of the 1949 cease-fire lines. But if there is to be a two-state solution to the conflict, do Fein and those who agree with him really think peace will be bought by dismantling Ariel? Is he prepared to take the same position about those Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are also on the other side of the old “green line?” Seen in that light, it’s hard to see his attitude toward Ariel as anything but an expression of political venom directed against Israelis whose politics he doesn’t like. Whatever the merits of his arguments about settlements, such a boycott has nothing to do with justice or peace.

It should be understood that even those who are most ardent in advocating for the peace process understand that it will not be achieved by insisting that Israel retreat to the old “green line” border. Though the Palestinian Authority is making noises directed at liberal Jews and the Western media that it is ready to end the conflict for all time, there is good reason to doubt they will accept terms they have repeatedly refused in the recent past. But if they do, they know it will involve their having to accept that Israel will retain the large settlement blocs in exchange for some territory inside pre-1967 Israel.

Among those blocs that aren’t changing hands is the city of Ariel. So exactly what point is served by a boycott of a place whose existence as a Jewish community wouldn’t prevent a peace settlement? Ariel’s continued existence inside Israel is not really in question. Does Fein believe that every Jew must be removed from all of the areas that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 in order to create justice and peace for the Palestinian Arabs? If so, is he advocating for a similar boycott of the various Jerusalem neighborhoods and towns and villages that would also be kept by Israel in the event the “agreement whose terms everybody already knows” that fellow leftists keep talking about is signed?

I think not.

Just as calls for the eviction of Arabs from Israel are repugnant, if peace is ever to be achieved, it will have to be on the basis of mutual respect and coexistence, not on eradicating the Jewish presence in parts of the country. But even if some settlements were to be removed, as happened in Gaza, in the event of a peace settlement, why would Fein focus on one that is not in that category except to vent spleen against the settlement movement that is more about Israeli politics than the future of peace?

I understand the arguments of those who believe preserving Israel’s Jewish majority will require the separation of two peoples. Doing so may involve giving up some settlements. But the movement to boycott settlements does more to appeal to the Palestinian belief that all Jews should be evicted from the country than it does to the cause of two states for two peoples. Palestinians may think Ariel’s existence is an injustice and intolerable insult to their sensibilities. But so is every other Jewish village, town, and city inside Israel. In this case, it is the boycott that is the injustice, not the existence of Ariel.

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Another Sign Middle East Talks Are Fake

Both Israel and the Palestinians are doing their best to act as if they care about the peace talks that are about to resume this week at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the absence of any real hope that a deal is possible, maintaining the pretense isn’t easy. Thus, the Palestinians are doing their best to turn the announcement that some 1,000 housing units will be built in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel in any possible future agreement into a major controversy. Yet the pro forma nature of the protest on the eve of the talks makes it hard to believe their hearts are really in it. But since providing an alibi for not making peace remains a higher priority for the Palestinian Authority than making the hard compromises needed to reach an accord, protest they must.

The announcement of the housing bids is being interpreted by critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as a sign that he is not sincere about the talks or as a sop to his allies on the right who are upset about the concessions he has made at Kerry’s request to entice the Palestinians back to the table. They are right about the latter, since many in Netanyahu’s coalition are rightly outraged about the release of terrorist murderers who will be welcomed home as heroes rather than vicious criminals by the PA.

However, the focus on settlement building, both by the Palestinians and the Americans, is a clear sign of how removed the peace processers are from the reality of the conflict. If there was any chance at all that the Palestinians were actually willing to sign a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn or to end the conflict, the building of a few apartments in parts of Jerusalem that are not going to change hands wouldn’t be worth a mention. But since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows there’s no way he could take such a step, he and his followers must continue to try to turn settlements into an issue that will, after a decent interval, give him an excuse for weaseling his way out of the talks. Just consider it a fake controversy to go along with a peace process that is, at its core, just as fake.

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Both Israel and the Palestinians are doing their best to act as if they care about the peace talks that are about to resume this week at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the absence of any real hope that a deal is possible, maintaining the pretense isn’t easy. Thus, the Palestinians are doing their best to turn the announcement that some 1,000 housing units will be built in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel in any possible future agreement into a major controversy. Yet the pro forma nature of the protest on the eve of the talks makes it hard to believe their hearts are really in it. But since providing an alibi for not making peace remains a higher priority for the Palestinian Authority than making the hard compromises needed to reach an accord, protest they must.

The announcement of the housing bids is being interpreted by critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as a sign that he is not sincere about the talks or as a sop to his allies on the right who are upset about the concessions he has made at Kerry’s request to entice the Palestinians back to the table. They are right about the latter, since many in Netanyahu’s coalition are rightly outraged about the release of terrorist murderers who will be welcomed home as heroes rather than vicious criminals by the PA.

However, the focus on settlement building, both by the Palestinians and the Americans, is a clear sign of how removed the peace processers are from the reality of the conflict. If there was any chance at all that the Palestinians were actually willing to sign a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn or to end the conflict, the building of a few apartments in parts of Jerusalem that are not going to change hands wouldn’t be worth a mention. But since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows there’s no way he could take such a step, he and his followers must continue to try to turn settlements into an issue that will, after a decent interval, give him an excuse for weaseling his way out of the talks. Just consider it a fake controversy to go along with a peace process that is, at its core, just as fake.

As I wrote yesterday, the notion that Israel building in those areas that both sides know would remain part of the Jewish state is at all controversial is rooted in the notion that there really isn’t anything to negotiate about. If you consider, as do the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders, that every inch of the West Bank and those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 are stolen property and that Jews have no right to be there under any circumstances, then the negotiations are merely about Israeli surrender, not compromise. But since Israel rightly regards its rights there as rooted in international law and history and as valid as those of the Palestinians, compromise is what is needed to make peace. Israeli building in Jerusalem or the settlement blocs is no more an obstacle to peace than the homes Palestinians are building in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem or the new settlement north of Ramallah that was featured in yesterday’s New York Times.

Optimists continue to hope that Kerry’s desperate gambit will pay off because Israel is so afraid of the explosion in terrorism that may result from yet another failure in the talks (much like the experience after the Camp David summit of 2000) that Netanyahu will fold on territorial issues, as he did on the prisoner release. If the day ever arrives when the leadership of the Palestinians—which is now divided between the moderates who don’t want to make peace and extremists who will never consider it—ever chooses to accept Israel’s legitimacy and agree to end the conflict now and forever while giving up the right of return, Netanyahu will face a difficult dilemma which could potentially tear his government apart. But since the PA remains more intent on preserving its maximalist legacy with bogus settlement protests, it’s doubtful that the fears of Netanyahu’s right-wing critics that he will give in to pressure will be realized. If the process were not so fake, we would be hearing about dissent among Palestinians as they contemplated Abbas making compromises rather than protests about building in Jerusalem. 

Until that happens, we’re stuck watching the same movie as the Palestinians continue to find new reasons to avoid peace and the world moves on to deal with the real issues destabilizing the Middle East in Egypt and Syria. Staying awake until the inevitable conclusion of Kerry’s drama won’t be easy.

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An Israel-EU Peace Process?

During Bill Clinton’s attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East, the underestimated element that kept throwing the administration off course was the competition the peace process created among Arab states and entities. Clinton wanted to strike a peace deal between Israel and Syria, which was logical because Israel already had a peace deal with Egypt, a de facto peace with Jordan, and as much peace with Lebanon as it could achieve without striking a deal with Syria.

But the Arab states didn’t get along with each other, and tried repeatedly to interfere in parallel peace tracks to compete for Clinton’s attention. In a bizarro-world reflection of the Middle East’s “me-too” competition for negotiations and a sad indication of the devaluation of the European Union’s relationship with Israel, there is a new parallel track to the latest talks: the Israel-EU peace process.

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During Bill Clinton’s attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East, the underestimated element that kept throwing the administration off course was the competition the peace process created among Arab states and entities. Clinton wanted to strike a peace deal between Israel and Syria, which was logical because Israel already had a peace deal with Egypt, a de facto peace with Jordan, and as much peace with Lebanon as it could achieve without striking a deal with Syria.

But the Arab states didn’t get along with each other, and tried repeatedly to interfere in parallel peace tracks to compete for Clinton’s attention. In a bizarro-world reflection of the Middle East’s “me-too” competition for negotiations and a sad indication of the devaluation of the European Union’s relationship with Israel, there is a new parallel track to the latest talks: the Israel-EU peace process.

The background is the EU’s decision to institute new rules restricting its cooperation with Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank. I wrote about the latest in the controversy here. The EU’s new rules are not a full trade boycott of Jewish goods but rather intended to preclude access to EU grants. The difference is that an economic boycott would hurt the EU as well; the new rules are designed only to hurt Israel–more specifically, Jews living in Israel’s capital and those living over the green line, unless those Jews are deemed sufficiently opposed to their own Israeli government, in which case the EU will consider waiving the discriminatory regulations.

I also pointed to a Times of Israel article that made clear the new EU rules were not based in international law, but rather were simply a manifestation of the EU’s increasingly hostile foreign policy toward Israel. Today, Reuters reports the evolving response from the Israeli government:

The rightist Israeli government responded on July 26 by announcing curbs on EU aid projects for thousands of West Bank Palestinians. On Thursday it accused the Europeans of harming Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and said it would not sign new deals with the 28-nation bloc given the planned sanctions.

But Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin took a more diplomatic tack on Friday, offering to negotiate with the European Union over the guidelines, which he described as a challenge to the Jewish state’s sovereignty.

“We are ready to hold a creative dialogue with the Europeans. We understand their position. We reject it, we don’t like it, but it’s their right when it comes to using their money,” Elkin told Israel Radio.

So that is where EU-Israel relations currently stand. It is necessary for the two sides to have their own bilateral talks to defuse tensions between them. The EU also seems determined to distract Israeli leaders from the renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinian leadership moderated by Secretary of State John Kerry. The EU’s timing all along has had a distinctive narcissistic flourish to it. While Kerry was trying to finalize an agreement to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, the EU released word of its new rules, which would give the Palestinians yet another reason to believe they didn’t need to negotiate to get what they wanted from the world.

The EU’s interference has not abated since it is asking Israel to justify its own sovereignty to the West at the risk of undermining its negotiating position with regard to the Palestinians. And it’s important to note that Israeli sovereignty is precisely what is at stake in the EU machinations. Not only will the EU continue approving grants for those Israelis willing to renounce their own government’s claim to land on which their fellow countrymen live, but the other side of that coin is the EU’s attempt to get the Israeli government to abandon its own citizens.

Elkin made it clear that Israel understands this aspect of the policy. Reuters notes that he downplayed the financial damage the new rules might do to Israel in favor of highlighting the much more consequential issues of sovereignty:

Elkin said the EU guidelines required Israel to take action against its own institutes with facilities in East Jerusalem.

“The dispute here is about Jerusalem and the dispute is over the question over whether the sovereign border that we laid down is in force or not,” he said. “If you begin to discriminate among various bodies located within your sovereign territory, it means you are effectively denying the sovereignty you declared.”

That is well said. Elkin is willing to negotiate with the EU over its new rules, but he wants to be crystal clear on what is at stake. The EU ignores the entire history of the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. To the EU, the Oslo process didn’t go far enough. But now that’s irrelevant anyway to the lawless Eurocrats. Forget final-status negotiations; the EU wants Israel to deny its own legitimacy.

It’s not really about economics or even diplomatic isolation. No doubt the Palestinians are watching closely to see if their negotiations with Israel are really as irrelevant as the EU makes them out to be by suggesting that the Jewish state can be tricked into unilateral surrender.

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Anti-Semitic Hate for Kids … and Adults

Prior to his wife’s illness, the assumption was that Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the Middle East this week for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But whenever Kerry does get back to wandering between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the same obstacles that have prevented peace will still be there. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that if he does as Kerry bids and negotiates with Israel and signs an agreement ending the conflict, he will be running up against the Palestinian reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But while the media continues to focus on the deadlocked talks about talks, they rarely devote much energy to determining what exactly is driving the Palestinian culture of rejection.

Part of the answer to that puzzle is supplied from those who, unlike the mainstream media, do pay attention to what is written and broadcast in the official Palestinian media run by Abbas’s PA. Those wondering why the Palestinians would reject peace offers including an independent state (as they have three times since 2000), can do no better than to view this PA TV excerpt brought to our attention from Palestinian Media Watch in which two little Palestinian girls are asked to recite a hateful poem that refers to Jews in the following manner:

“Most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,” condemned to “humiliation and hardship.”

It also went on to say the following about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity

Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate

And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.

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Prior to his wife’s illness, the assumption was that Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the Middle East this week for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But whenever Kerry does get back to wandering between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the same obstacles that have prevented peace will still be there. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that if he does as Kerry bids and negotiates with Israel and signs an agreement ending the conflict, he will be running up against the Palestinian reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But while the media continues to focus on the deadlocked talks about talks, they rarely devote much energy to determining what exactly is driving the Palestinian culture of rejection.

Part of the answer to that puzzle is supplied from those who, unlike the mainstream media, do pay attention to what is written and broadcast in the official Palestinian media run by Abbas’s PA. Those wondering why the Palestinians would reject peace offers including an independent state (as they have three times since 2000), can do no better than to view this PA TV excerpt brought to our attention from Palestinian Media Watch in which two little Palestinian girls are asked to recite a hateful poem that refers to Jews in the following manner:

“Most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,” condemned to “humiliation and hardship.”

It also went on to say the following about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity

Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate

And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.

It is shocking that the official media of the group that Kerry considers a partner for peace would be broadcasting hate and using children to do it. But, of course, as anyone who follows the PMW website regularly knows, there is actually nothing unusual about the PA acting in this manner.

The PA media has broadcast a steady diet of hatred against Israel and Jews since its inception after the Oslo Accords brought it into existence with numerous examples of them employing children and broadcasts specifically aimed at youngsters to do so. One of the great tragedies of the last 20 years has been the way Israel’s supposed peace partners have sowed the seeds of future conflict by inculcating their youth with doctrines that treat Jews as subhuman monsters with no rights or claims upon the land that both sides claim as their own.

There will be those who will argue that similar hatred exists among Israelis, as occasional incidents inside the green line and so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians in the territories indicate. But the difference between the two sides is actually illustrative of the way Israel has embraced the hope for peace while Palestinians have not.

The point is hatred of Jews by Palestinians is something that is officially endorsed by the Palestinian Authority while hatred of Arabs is incessantly condemned by the Israeli media and the government. Jewish prejudice against Arabs exists, but only as the actions of a minority, while mainstream Palestinian culture endorses hate. While Israeli schools adopted curricula seeking to promote “peace education,” the Palestinian schools still use textbooks that are filled with the same kind of vile delegitimization seen on PA TV.

But such hatred isn’t limited to just the Palestinians. As the Elder of Ziyon blog reports today, the American website Mondoweiss seems to be competing with the PA in the effort to delegitimize Jewish rights. In the course of a blog post alleging that Jewish settlers were infringing on the rights of Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Mondoweiss editor and contributor Annie Robbins made the following claim in response to a comment from a reader who pointed out that the Tomb is an ancient site of Jewish worship that even predates the Holy Temples in Jerusalem:

allegedly. there’s no proof that was the location of some grand temple. maybe lots of jewish stuff retroactively lands itself right underneath islamic structures. did you ever think of that? jealous much?

For anyone commenting on the Middle East to not know that the Muslim Conquests involved the planting of mosques on top of the holy sites of other faiths in places like Turkey, India as well as Israel is to demonstrate historical illiteracy on an Olympic scale. The line that separates stupidity from religious prejudice in such assertions is nonexistent since the only possible motivation for these statements is malice rooted in anti-Semitic hatred.

But while we know that Mondoweiss represents the views of denizens of the fever swamps of the left, it is important to remember that it is quite common for Abbas to make similar statements denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem or the existence of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah or the temple. So long as hate speech is mainstream among the Palestinians, peace with Israel is not something that can be conjured up by a hard working secretary of state.

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Building in Jerusalem Won’t Prevent Peace

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today for another bout of what some wags are calling “couples therapy” for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The chances of this push leading to fruitful negotiations, let alone a peace agreement, are slim. But what is most interesting about the chatter all this talking about talking is producing is the way the Palestinians and other critics of Israel are trying to raise the ante even before anyone sits down together. Thus, the willingness of PA negotiator Saeb Erekat to turn the announcement of building permits in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem into an excuse for not making peace tells us a lot more about the Palestinian mindset than it does about the Netanyahu government.

The permits for constructing 69 apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood was treated as a big deal in today’s New York Times, which validated Erekat’s attempt to inflate the decision into a cause célèbre. The Times was also quick to compare it to the 2010 episode in which the Obama administration picked a fight with Netanyahu over a routine announcement about a housing start in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The administration claimed it was an “insult” to Vice President Joe Biden, who happened to be passing through the city at the time. Little good came of that for anyone, especially since the Palestinians failed to use the U.S. tilt in their direction by returning to peace talks. But it bears repeating that the Palestinian desire to claim that any building in parts of Jerusalem that were once illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and during which Jews were banned from even worshiping at the Western Wall–let alone living in those parts of their ancient capital–is an obstacle to peace simply doesn’t make any sense.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today for another bout of what some wags are calling “couples therapy” for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The chances of this push leading to fruitful negotiations, let alone a peace agreement, are slim. But what is most interesting about the chatter all this talking about talking is producing is the way the Palestinians and other critics of Israel are trying to raise the ante even before anyone sits down together. Thus, the willingness of PA negotiator Saeb Erekat to turn the announcement of building permits in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem into an excuse for not making peace tells us a lot more about the Palestinian mindset than it does about the Netanyahu government.

The permits for constructing 69 apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood was treated as a big deal in today’s New York Times, which validated Erekat’s attempt to inflate the decision into a cause célèbre. The Times was also quick to compare it to the 2010 episode in which the Obama administration picked a fight with Netanyahu over a routine announcement about a housing start in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The administration claimed it was an “insult” to Vice President Joe Biden, who happened to be passing through the city at the time. Little good came of that for anyone, especially since the Palestinians failed to use the U.S. tilt in their direction by returning to peace talks. But it bears repeating that the Palestinian desire to claim that any building in parts of Jerusalem that were once illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and during which Jews were banned from even worshiping at the Western Wall–let alone living in those parts of their ancient capital–is an obstacle to peace simply doesn’t make any sense.

Even under a peace plan, such as the one proposed by Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert, Israel would retain Har Homa and other Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem–though the former PM did concede sovereignty over the Old City (something few Israelis would accept). The point is, if the Palestinians really want a state in almost all the West Bank (something Netanyahu has signaled this week he can live with) and a share of Jerusalem, what does it matter to them how many Jews live in the parts they won’t get?

Palestinian objections about building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem are no more logical than Israeli complaints about Arabs building homes in the West Bank in parts of the country that would not remain under Israeli control. But Israel isn’t complaining about Arab building. They’re just asking the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without preconditions after boycotting talks for four and a half years.

But, of course, such Palestinian complaints do make sense, at least from the point of view of most Palestinians. Their goal isn’t a state alongside Israel or to share Jerusalem. They want Jews out of Har Homa for the same reason they want them out of most other parts of the country since what they desire is a Palestinian state free of Jews.

Attempts to depict the Jewish presence in Jerusalem as illegal is deeply offensive, but in line with PA propaganda that has consistently sought to deny Jewish ties to the city and Jewish history itself. While the PA cannot be under any illusion that the Netanyahu government—or any Israeli government for that matter, regardless of who is at its head—would consent to giving up Jerusalem, what they want is to brand every Jew there a “settler” who can be treated as an outlaw rather than a party to talks with rights. Treating building even in those areas that no one thinks would be handed over to the Palestinians under any circumstance as off limits is not about making peace. It’s about delegitimizing Israel.

So long as the Palestinians cling to the delusion that Israel will be shifted out of Jerusalem or back to the 1967 lines—something that President Obama has reinforced with his frequent support for using those lines as the starting point for talks, should they ever be resumed—the chances that a peace agreement will ever be signed is nonexistent. Peace is theoretically possible on terms that would call for the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The focus on opposing the Jewish presence in the city is a sign that we are a long way away from that happening.

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Why Palestinians Block Wall Changes

As I predicted two months ago, the prospects that Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky’s fair-minded plan for changes at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be implemented have run into an impassable obstacle. Sharansky’s plan was to create a third section of the Kotel that would create a space for egalitarian services that would remove a source of conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers. It has been met with generally good reviews among both Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t like the way this sacred place has become for all intents and purposes an open-air Orthodox synagogue rather than a place of pilgrimage for all Jews. But as nasty and as bitter as the infighting between Jewish factions may be, the real conflict in the city remains the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister has said it will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount—which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza—in order to expand the area where Jews may worship at the remnant of their ancient holy place. But the motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal. Rather than this issue being a purely internecine conflict between women who wish to wear prayer shawls and read Torah and those Orthodox adherents who want to prevent them from doing so, the question of who is in charge at the Kotel still shrinks in significance when placed in the context of the Palestinian struggle to return to a period of history when Jews had no rights in Jerusalem.

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As I predicted two months ago, the prospects that Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky’s fair-minded plan for changes at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be implemented have run into an impassable obstacle. Sharansky’s plan was to create a third section of the Kotel that would create a space for egalitarian services that would remove a source of conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers. It has been met with generally good reviews among both Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t like the way this sacred place has become for all intents and purposes an open-air Orthodox synagogue rather than a place of pilgrimage for all Jews. But as nasty and as bitter as the infighting between Jewish factions may be, the real conflict in the city remains the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister has said it will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount—which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza—in order to expand the area where Jews may worship at the remnant of their ancient holy place. But the motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal. Rather than this issue being a purely internecine conflict between women who wish to wear prayer shawls and read Torah and those Orthodox adherents who want to prevent them from doing so, the question of who is in charge at the Kotel still shrinks in significance when placed in the context of the Palestinian struggle to return to a period of history when Jews had no rights in Jerusalem.

The problem is that in order for Sharansky’s plan to be implemented, alterations must be made to the Mugrabi Bridge that provides access to the Temple Mount from the Wall Plaza. Israel has sought to renovate the bridge in recent years, a move that would only benefit Muslims and the foreign tourists who visit the mosques on the hill (Jews are forbidden to pray there), but it has been prevented from doing so by the demands of the Muslim Wakf which administers the Temple Mount.

The issue here isn’t just preservation of an ancient site in pristine condition since the Temple Mount has already been the scene of massive vandalism committed by the Wakf, which is determined to ignore or bury the evidence of the Jewish origins of the place. The Wakf claims the Kotel is theirs and rejects Jewish sovereignty over any part of it or the city that surrounds it as well as any association with Judaism or the history of the Jewish people. Palestinian Authority leaders and their media have repeatedly claimed that the ancient temples were not built on the Mount where Muslim conquerors subsequently built mosques, just as they deny the associations of the Jews with the rest of their ancient homeland. The rejection of the Sharansky plan is a function of the desire of the PA to exercise control over the entire Old City.

The PA and the Wakf don’t want to stop the expansion of the areas where people can pray at the Wall only because they wish to discomfit the Jews but because they envision administering it themselves in the future.

The dispute between the Women of the Wall and Orthodox authorities is a significant issue that can poison the relationship between Israel and the vast majority of American Jews who affiliate with non-Orthodox denominations. But the PA’s pronouncement is a reminder that the real fight in Jerusalem is not between Jews. So long as Palestinians are determined to reverse the verdict of history and return Jews to a subordinate status in their ancient capital, the spat between Jewish factions will have to wait.

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The Palestinian Excuse Machine

Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the Middle East peace process hasn’t accomplished much so far and isn’t likely to do better in the future. But it has posed an interesting challenge to the Palestinians. Given that they don’t wish to further offend the United States or disrupt the flow of Western aid that keeps the corrupt Palestinian Authority afloat, and also don’t wish to return to negotiating with Israel under virtually any circumstances, how do they justify continuing their four-and-half-year-old boycott of peace talks? Their answer to that dilemma is clear: continue to pile on the calumnies against the Jewish state and hope that it will be seen to justify their ongoing refusal to even talk with Israel.

Their reasoning for sticking to this tried and true formula for avoiding peace talks is sound. Given that both Washington and much of the Western media has always been ready to buy into their abuse of Israel and to stick to the idea that the Palestinians are innocent victims rather than the principle authors of their own misery, why shouldn’t they continue to pretend that Israeli building in Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that prevents them from returning to the table?

But anyone who is familiar with the parameters of past peace talks that they claim to wish to build on understands that their complaints about Jews in Jerusalem or canards about ethnic cleansing are not only false but simply excuses manufactured to justify their unwillingness to play ball with Kerry.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the Middle East peace process hasn’t accomplished much so far and isn’t likely to do better in the future. But it has posed an interesting challenge to the Palestinians. Given that they don’t wish to further offend the United States or disrupt the flow of Western aid that keeps the corrupt Palestinian Authority afloat, and also don’t wish to return to negotiating with Israel under virtually any circumstances, how do they justify continuing their four-and-half-year-old boycott of peace talks? Their answer to that dilemma is clear: continue to pile on the calumnies against the Jewish state and hope that it will be seen to justify their ongoing refusal to even talk with Israel.

Their reasoning for sticking to this tried and true formula for avoiding peace talks is sound. Given that both Washington and much of the Western media has always been ready to buy into their abuse of Israel and to stick to the idea that the Palestinians are innocent victims rather than the principle authors of their own misery, why shouldn’t they continue to pretend that Israeli building in Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that prevents them from returning to the table?

But anyone who is familiar with the parameters of past peace talks that they claim to wish to build on understands that their complaints about Jews in Jerusalem or canards about ethnic cleansing are not only false but simply excuses manufactured to justify their unwillingness to play ball with Kerry.

The Palestinian complaints about Israeli building in East Jerusalem dooming peace talks are patently absurd. The plans, which consist of tenders for the construction of 300 apartments in the Ramot neighborhood and 800 in the Gilo area, would in no way affect the Palestinian position or their hopes for an independent state that might include part of the city.

Ramot and Gilo are located in parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and thus are over the “green line” that once divided the city. But these are 40-year-old neighborhoods that are long established, not some remote hilltop settlements in parts of the West Bank that are assumed to be part of a future Palestinian state.

In every peace plan put forward by peace groups as well as the Israeli government’s offers of statehood to the Palestinians, the Jewish areas of East Jerusalem remain part of Israel. The Palestinians know that even in the most generous distribution of territory—including the one put forward by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 that called for the abandonment of the Old City by Israel—Ramot and Gilo and other such neighborhoods are not going to be handed over to them and emptied of their Jewish inhabitants. In other words, if the Palestinian goal is truly to have a state alongside Israel that includes the Arab sections of East Jerusalem, it doesn’t matter how many Jews are in Ramot and Gilo.

But, of course, the PA isn’t really interested in a partition of Jerusalem or the 1967 lines as it is in finding a reason to avoid talking to Israel. That’s why they are forced to try to blow up the issue of Jews in East Jerusalem as a provocation that prevents them from negotiating.

To be fair to the Palestinians, they are in some ways merely following the lead of the Obama administration that has made an issue of building in Jerusalem during the president’s first term. But, fortunately, Obama and Kerry have seen sense and abandoned past attempts to get Israel to agree to a building freeze in its own capital and instead urged the Palestinians to negotiate without preconditions.

But that is something that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows he cannot do. Abbas fled from Olmert’s offer that would have given him virtually everything he says he wants because he knows that he could not survive after signing a deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

Despite Kerry’s naïve optimism that he can succeed where all his predecessors have failed, the intervening years have not altered Abbas’s position. With his Hamas rivals ensconced in Gaza and his own political position still precarious as he serves the ninth year of his four-year term as president, Abbas has no leeway to agree to a peace that would conclude the conflict. Palestinian politics remains mired in the rejectionism that has characterized its relationship toward Zionism since its inception. Nor is Abbas strong enough to resist the demands of the descendants of the 1948 refugees for Israel’s destruction even if he really were willing to make peace.

But faced with Kerry’s pleas for talks, all Abbas can do is to stall and pretend that Jews building in areas that the Palestinians will never get even in a division of Jerusalem is reason to avoid talking. Both Washington and the Western press shouldn’t fall for the latest version of the PA’s excuses.

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Why Didn’t the 1967 Borders Bring Peace?

The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

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The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

The 1967 borders actually were not internationally recognized but merely the armistice lines that marked where the armies were standing when a cease-fire ended Israel’s War of Independence. In particular, those lines left the city of Jerusalem, which had a Jewish majority since the mid-19th century, divided. The Old City of Jerusalem, which fell during the fighting during a siege of the city conducted by Jordan’s Arab Legion, was off limits to Jews from 1948 to 1967. The Western Wall never heard Jewish prayer and was used as a garbage dump. The Jordanians paved a road through the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used some of the tombstones as construction material. A wall ran through the city much like the barrier that divided Berlin.

But those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by the Jordanians (only the United Kingdom and Pakistan recognized their annexation of part of the city as well as the West Bank, which got that illogical name because it differentiated it from the East Bank–which is now Jordan) did not constitute a Palestinian capital. Nor was Egyptian-occupied Gaza considered part of a Palestinian state.

What those who demand a return to the 1967 lines also forget is that Israel’s liberation of the city marked the beginning of the first period in Jerusalem’s modern history that complete religious freedom and open access to all holy sites was protected.

But the situation prior to that war did bear some resemblance to what is happening today. The territories under Jordanian and Egyptian control were used as bases for Palestinians who attempted to infiltrate into pre-1967 Israel and carry out terror attacks. And it was along those borders that Arab armies massed in May 1967 while their leaders repeated threats that they would drive the Jews into the sea.

Israel survived that perilous month of waiting as the world wondered whether a second Holocaust would ensue from those Arab threats by striking first and defeating its enemies. At that moment, the Jewish state ceased to be seen as a latter-day David standing up to the Goliath of an Arab world that outnumbered its forces and became the bogeyman of the international press.

As much as that dismal pre-1967 era seems like ancient history, what those who harp on 1967 ignore is that there has been no sea change in Arab opinion about Israel since then. Even in those countries like Egypt and Jordan that have signed peace treaties with Israel, the prevailing sentiment among the populace remains one of support for their neighbor’s destruction.

Until that happens and Palestinians come to terms with the permanence of the Jewish return to the land, arguing that just forcing Israel to give up the territory it won in a war of self-defense will solve the conflict is not only illogical; it’s a demand for national suicide.

For all of contemporary Jerusalem’s problems, its re-division would immeasurably worsen the quality of life there, as well as compromise open access to holy places (the only exception to that is the Temple Mount where Jews and Christians are still forbidden from praying in order to appease the Muslim religious authorities).

As Ruthie Blum wrote in Israel Hayom, Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem didn’t start a conflict that had already existed for decades, “it was precisely the pan-Arab attempt to eliminate the ‘Zionist entity’ that sparked the three-front war in the first place. And it was Israel that liberated Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation.”

As she notes, the day Jerusalem was reunited, then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan issued the following statement:

This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour — and with added emphasis at this hour — our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.

Israel has kept its promise, but the Palestinians and most of their supporters have never come to terms with the reality or the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Peace may be possible when the Palestinians change. But let us hope Jerusalem will never again be torn apart as it was in 1948 when Arab armies invaded and that the security of Israel will never be compromised or rights to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people abrogated merely in order to recreate the dangerous situation of June 4, 1967.

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