Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jewish building

Israeli Shakeup Another Setback for Obama

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East. Read More

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East.

From the moment he took office, Obama has sought to overturn the cozier relationship that existed between Washington and Jerusalem under his predecessor. Throughout his first year in office, Obama seemed to be aiming at unseating Netanyahu, who had been elected weeks after the president was sworn in. By picking pointless fights over settlements and Jewish building in Jerusalem, Obama sought to destabilize Netanyahu’s coalition and hoped Livni would soon replace him. But his ill-considered attacks merely strengthened Netanyahu, who wisely sought to avoid a direct confrontation with his country’s only ally. It was already obvious that, far from collapsing, Netanyahu’s government would survive to the end of its four-year term or close to it. While the outcome of the next Israeli election that will probably occur in 2013 is as difficult to predict as that of Obama’s own re-election effort in 2012, Barak’s move renders the hopes of Livni — the Israeli leader whom both Obama and Secretary of State Clinton continue to treat as America’s favorite Israeli — less likely.

That means Obama is going to have to spend the rest of his term continuing to try to learn to live with the wily Netanyahu. Both Obama and the Palestinian Authority have spent the past two years acting as if they were just waiting around for a new weaker-willed Israeli government to materialize that would then magically create the circumstances under which peace would be achieved. As Barak-faction member Einat Wilf told the New York Times today, “I don’t belong to the camp that believes Israel is solely responsible for the failure of these negotiations. The Palestinians bear responsibility for not entering the talks. Some people have sent them a message to wait around for a new government.”

Barak’s move makes it clear that isn’t going to happen. While Israel’s critics will lament this development, it is high time that Americans accept the fact that the verdict of the Jewish state’s voters must be respected and that the Israeli consensus that has developed about the futility of further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians is entirely justified.

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Toppled Palestinian ‘Landmark’ Symbolized Hate

It says something about the way much of the world views the rights of Jews to live in Jerusalem that the erection of new homes in parts of that city is considered such a terrible provocation. Thus, the new housing project in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city is generally reported as an outrageous provocation, even though the only reason this area is usually described as “predominantly Arab” or, more outrageously, “traditionally Arab” is because from 1949 to 1967, when this location was illegally occupied by Jordan, Jews were prohibited from living there.

As to whether it is wise for Israel to allow Jews to live in all parts of their capital, that is something that Israelis can debate, though redividing Jerusalem and returning those parts handed over to the Palestinian Arabs to a Jew-free condition seems like a curious way to advance the cause of peace and mutual coexistence. But let’s leave aside the question of Jewish rights or even the strategic wisdom of putting more Jews in these neighborhoods. Let us instead examine the Palestinian claim and what it represents.

When the New York Times reported the fact that ground was being broken for the new housing in Sheikh Jarrah in a story published on Sunday, what it did was to focus on the destruction of what it claimed was a Palestinian “landmark.” What landmark, you ask? Was it a medieval structure that in some way represents the longstanding Arab presence in the city or its culture? No. The building that was toppled to make way for some new apartment houses was just a large home that was built in the 1930s as a villa for one of the most notorious figures in 20th-century history: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini may never have spent much time in what eventually was renamed the Shepherd Hotel, but he did make his mark on the region by inspiring bloody pogroms against the Jews then living in the country. After the outbreak of World War II, he joined forces with the Nazis, meeting with Hitler and then spending the war making Arabic propaganda broadcasts for the Axis and successfully recruiting Muslims (mostly Bosnians) to serve in a special SS brigade. He was promised that, in the event of a German victory, he would be made the puppet ruler of what is now Israel, where he would assist the Nazis in the massacre of the several hundred thousand Jews who lived there.

That a home that was in any way connected to Husseini or any other Nazi would be considered a landmark whose demolition inspired statements of sadness from contemporary Palestinian leaders like Saeb Erekat speaks volumes about the nature of Palestinian politics. That the intended home of the man who dreamed of wiping out every last Jew in Jerusalem is coming down to make room for Jewish homes is certainly ironic. One needn’t necessarily agree with the politics of Daniel Luria, a representative of Ateret Cohanim, the group that promotes Jewish building throughout Jerusalem, to appreciate what he termed the “beautiful poetic justice” of this event.

It says something about the way much of the world views the rights of Jews to live in Jerusalem that the erection of new homes in parts of that city is considered such a terrible provocation. Thus, the new housing project in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city is generally reported as an outrageous provocation, even though the only reason this area is usually described as “predominantly Arab” or, more outrageously, “traditionally Arab” is because from 1949 to 1967, when this location was illegally occupied by Jordan, Jews were prohibited from living there.

As to whether it is wise for Israel to allow Jews to live in all parts of their capital, that is something that Israelis can debate, though redividing Jerusalem and returning those parts handed over to the Palestinian Arabs to a Jew-free condition seems like a curious way to advance the cause of peace and mutual coexistence. But let’s leave aside the question of Jewish rights or even the strategic wisdom of putting more Jews in these neighborhoods. Let us instead examine the Palestinian claim and what it represents.

When the New York Times reported the fact that ground was being broken for the new housing in Sheikh Jarrah in a story published on Sunday, what it did was to focus on the destruction of what it claimed was a Palestinian “landmark.” What landmark, you ask? Was it a medieval structure that in some way represents the longstanding Arab presence in the city or its culture? No. The building that was toppled to make way for some new apartment houses was just a large home that was built in the 1930s as a villa for one of the most notorious figures in 20th-century history: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini may never have spent much time in what eventually was renamed the Shepherd Hotel, but he did make his mark on the region by inspiring bloody pogroms against the Jews then living in the country. After the outbreak of World War II, he joined forces with the Nazis, meeting with Hitler and then spending the war making Arabic propaganda broadcasts for the Axis and successfully recruiting Muslims (mostly Bosnians) to serve in a special SS brigade. He was promised that, in the event of a German victory, he would be made the puppet ruler of what is now Israel, where he would assist the Nazis in the massacre of the several hundred thousand Jews who lived there.

That a home that was in any way connected to Husseini or any other Nazi would be considered a landmark whose demolition inspired statements of sadness from contemporary Palestinian leaders like Saeb Erekat speaks volumes about the nature of Palestinian politics. That the intended home of the man who dreamed of wiping out every last Jew in Jerusalem is coming down to make room for Jewish homes is certainly ironic. One needn’t necessarily agree with the politics of Daniel Luria, a representative of Ateret Cohanim, the group that promotes Jewish building throughout Jerusalem, to appreciate what he termed the “beautiful poetic justice” of this event.

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Obami’s Latest Israel Gambit Flops

Once again, the Obami’s bullying has come to naught. Bibi Netanyahu and his government are not amused nor persuaded by the Obami onslaught over Jerusalem housing permits or the suggestion that an imposed peace deal might be in the offing. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it would reject any moves by the Obama administration to set its own timeline and benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, potentially establishing a new fault line between the U.S. and Israel. … Senior White House officials, such as National Security Adviser James Jones, have also discussed recently the prospects of Washington proposing its own Mideast plan, though U.S. diplomats stressed this past week that such a move wasn’t imminent or agreed upon.

These developments have rankled Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which is already at odds with Mr. Obama over the issue of Jewish building in disputed East Jerusalem.

“I don’t believe this will be accepted by the administration because it will be a grave mistake. … The solution has to be homegrown,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Sunday. …

“The longstanding Israeli position, not of this government only, but of successive Israeli governments, is that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to live together in peace and that an agreement has to be negotiated between them directly,” said a senior Netanyahu administration official.

Of course this was entirely foreseeable. So once again one must ask of the Obami Israel policy: what is the point? Rather than absorb the lessons of 2009 — that the Israeli government cannot be strong-armed and that Bibi’s government can’t be toppled by the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Obama — the Obami have repeated and intensified their efforts to squeeze our ally. Yes, maybe this time we can use Jerusalem to pry them loose! Ah, the threat of an imposed peace — that’ll do it! But alas, all we’ve done, apparently is create a wedge between the U.S. and our ally, communicated to the Palestinians that they should just hold firm, and telegraphed to Israel’s neighbors that we are flaky friends.

The Obami now have two options. First, as they did with the settlement gambit, they can simply fold up their tents and go back to endless, fruitless rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Alternatively, they can try out their latest, already rejected brainstorm and see if maybe, just maybe, the Israelis will finally cave. In all of this, the Obami have set themselves apart from every prior administration, both in the degree to which they would willingly damage the U.S.-Israel relationship and in the inanity of their diplomatic efforts. It is proof positive that dramatic, even “historic” change can be a very dangerous thing.

Once again, the Obami’s bullying has come to naught. Bibi Netanyahu and his government are not amused nor persuaded by the Obami onslaught over Jerusalem housing permits or the suggestion that an imposed peace deal might be in the offing. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it would reject any moves by the Obama administration to set its own timeline and benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, potentially establishing a new fault line between the U.S. and Israel. … Senior White House officials, such as National Security Adviser James Jones, have also discussed recently the prospects of Washington proposing its own Mideast plan, though U.S. diplomats stressed this past week that such a move wasn’t imminent or agreed upon.

These developments have rankled Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which is already at odds with Mr. Obama over the issue of Jewish building in disputed East Jerusalem.

“I don’t believe this will be accepted by the administration because it will be a grave mistake. … The solution has to be homegrown,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Sunday. …

“The longstanding Israeli position, not of this government only, but of successive Israeli governments, is that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to live together in peace and that an agreement has to be negotiated between them directly,” said a senior Netanyahu administration official.

Of course this was entirely foreseeable. So once again one must ask of the Obami Israel policy: what is the point? Rather than absorb the lessons of 2009 — that the Israeli government cannot be strong-armed and that Bibi’s government can’t be toppled by the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Obama — the Obami have repeated and intensified their efforts to squeeze our ally. Yes, maybe this time we can use Jerusalem to pry them loose! Ah, the threat of an imposed peace — that’ll do it! But alas, all we’ve done, apparently is create a wedge between the U.S. and our ally, communicated to the Palestinians that they should just hold firm, and telegraphed to Israel’s neighbors that we are flaky friends.

The Obami now have two options. First, as they did with the settlement gambit, they can simply fold up their tents and go back to endless, fruitless rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Alternatively, they can try out their latest, already rejected brainstorm and see if maybe, just maybe, the Israelis will finally cave. In all of this, the Obami have set themselves apart from every prior administration, both in the degree to which they would willingly damage the U.S.-Israel relationship and in the inanity of their diplomatic efforts. It is proof positive that dramatic, even “historic” change can be a very dangerous thing.

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Obama’s Humiliation of Israel May Only Be Getting Started

After days of a news blackout about the details of the meeting on Tuesday between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Britain’s Telegraph has broken a story with details about what can only be described as an attempt to humiliate the Israeli.

According to the Telegraph’s account, the meeting began with the president presenting a list of 13 demands to Netanyahu. These included a complete freeze on Jewish building in eastern Jerusalem. When Netanyahu did not immediately accede to this diktat, Obama left him saying he was going to go eat dinner with his wife and daughters. Netanyahu and his party were left to wait for over an hour for Obama’s return. The paper claims that as Obama left, he told the prime minister to consider “the error of his ways.” Yediot Ahronot reported that Obama merely said, “I’m still around. Let me know if there is anything new.” A second brief meeting followed, which apparently consisted of the president restating his demands. As a punishment for Netanyahu’s failure to immediately bend to Obama’s ultimatum, there was no joint statement issued about the meeting and no press coverage of the visit. Friday’s Ma’ariv describes the scene thusly: “There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage. Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.”

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Obama wants an answer to his demands by Saturday so he can then present them to a meeting of the Arab League going on in Libya so that ineffectual body can endorse the so-called proximity talks in which the Palestinian Authority refuses to directly negotiate with Israel.

All of which points to the fact that the crisis between Israel and the United States, which many observers had thought was blowing over in the wake of the trumped-up controversy over the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, is far from concluded. In fact, it appears that Obama is just getting started.

What does the president hope to achieve? Having asked and gotten a building freeze in the West Bank from Netanyahu last year, the Palestinians still won’t sit and talk peace directly with Israel. Why should they when every time Israel makes a concession, the Arabs can now count on Obama demanding more, even to the point of making an issue of something like building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, which had never previously been a sticking point for the Americans. Since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has already rejected an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem as recently as late 2008, does Obama think Netanyahu — or any Israeli leader — can offer more? Does he truly believe that for the first time in their history, the Palestinians will take “yes” — since Netanyahu has also already agreed to the principle of a two-state solution — for an answer?

Perhaps, the 13-point ultimatum is just another attempt to topple Netanyahu’s coalition. But there is no reason to believe that Netanyahu’s partners — and the vast majority of the Israeli people — will not support him, especially when the issue at stake is the unity of Jerusalem. It is unlikely that Israelis will clamor for surrender to Washington in light of the fact that the man making these demands is an American president whom they rightly regard as hostile to their nation. But after Israel says “no” to Obama, does Obama dare escalate his diplomatic offensive against Israel further, even as his administration’s efforts to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability appear stalled? Obama has nothing to gain in continuing on this path, but then again, there was no point in starting this ruckus and choosing to humiliate the only democracy in the Middle East in the first place. Is Obama capable of stopping before this train wreck of a policy creates even more mischief in the region, as well as for Democrats seeking Jewish support this year?

Finally, one more thought about Obama’s 13-point ultimatum: It brings to mind the reaction of French President Georges Clemenceau to American President Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points” aimed at ending World War One in 1918. Stunned at Wilson’s presumption, Clemenceau quipped: “Even the good Lord contented Himself with only Ten Commandments, and we should not try to improve upon them.” The same might well be said of Obama’s arrogance.

After days of a news blackout about the details of the meeting on Tuesday between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Britain’s Telegraph has broken a story with details about what can only be described as an attempt to humiliate the Israeli.

According to the Telegraph’s account, the meeting began with the president presenting a list of 13 demands to Netanyahu. These included a complete freeze on Jewish building in eastern Jerusalem. When Netanyahu did not immediately accede to this diktat, Obama left him saying he was going to go eat dinner with his wife and daughters. Netanyahu and his party were left to wait for over an hour for Obama’s return. The paper claims that as Obama left, he told the prime minister to consider “the error of his ways.” Yediot Ahronot reported that Obama merely said, “I’m still around. Let me know if there is anything new.” A second brief meeting followed, which apparently consisted of the president restating his demands. As a punishment for Netanyahu’s failure to immediately bend to Obama’s ultimatum, there was no joint statement issued about the meeting and no press coverage of the visit. Friday’s Ma’ariv describes the scene thusly: “There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage. Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.”

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Obama wants an answer to his demands by Saturday so he can then present them to a meeting of the Arab League going on in Libya so that ineffectual body can endorse the so-called proximity talks in which the Palestinian Authority refuses to directly negotiate with Israel.

All of which points to the fact that the crisis between Israel and the United States, which many observers had thought was blowing over in the wake of the trumped-up controversy over the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, is far from concluded. In fact, it appears that Obama is just getting started.

What does the president hope to achieve? Having asked and gotten a building freeze in the West Bank from Netanyahu last year, the Palestinians still won’t sit and talk peace directly with Israel. Why should they when every time Israel makes a concession, the Arabs can now count on Obama demanding more, even to the point of making an issue of something like building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, which had never previously been a sticking point for the Americans. Since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has already rejected an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem as recently as late 2008, does Obama think Netanyahu — or any Israeli leader — can offer more? Does he truly believe that for the first time in their history, the Palestinians will take “yes” — since Netanyahu has also already agreed to the principle of a two-state solution — for an answer?

Perhaps, the 13-point ultimatum is just another attempt to topple Netanyahu’s coalition. But there is no reason to believe that Netanyahu’s partners — and the vast majority of the Israeli people — will not support him, especially when the issue at stake is the unity of Jerusalem. It is unlikely that Israelis will clamor for surrender to Washington in light of the fact that the man making these demands is an American president whom they rightly regard as hostile to their nation. But after Israel says “no” to Obama, does Obama dare escalate his diplomatic offensive against Israel further, even as his administration’s efforts to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability appear stalled? Obama has nothing to gain in continuing on this path, but then again, there was no point in starting this ruckus and choosing to humiliate the only democracy in the Middle East in the first place. Is Obama capable of stopping before this train wreck of a policy creates even more mischief in the region, as well as for Democrats seeking Jewish support this year?

Finally, one more thought about Obama’s 13-point ultimatum: It brings to mind the reaction of French President Georges Clemenceau to American President Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points” aimed at ending World War One in 1918. Stunned at Wilson’s presumption, Clemenceau quipped: “Even the good Lord contented Himself with only Ten Commandments, and we should not try to improve upon them.” The same might well be said of Obama’s arrogance.

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How Many Lives Is Biden’s Pride Worth?

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

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“Traditionally” Ill-Informed Times Slants News on Jerusalem

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

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