The State Department has condemned plans by the Jerusalem municipality to issue building permits for 558 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the city. This reaction only highlights the administration’s confused and messy policy on Jerusalem, which has become a tangled web of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, double standards, and even outright hostility to Jewish rights in Jerusalem, or indeed such basic things as Israel’s right to enforce the law in its own capital.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the building plans, “Our position on Jerusalem is clear. We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.” This of course is untrue, both in regards to the claim that the administration opposes equally moves by “either party” and in relation to the suggestion that these building plans somehow pertain to an attempt to “prejudge final status issues.”
First, it’s far from true that the State Department opposes unilateral moves by both sides. When it comes to claims in Jerusalem, they only condemn one side, the Jewish side. The municipality issues housing permits in east Jerusalem all the time, for both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Yet, it is only the permits for the Jewish neighborhoods that provoke any kind of reaction from the Obama administration. Furthermore, illegal Arab building is rife throughout many parts of Jerusalem. As in any municipality, the law must be upheld and construction without planning permission cannot go on unabated. Yet, in the past when the law has been enforced and illegal structures have been demolished, the State Department has protested Israel’s right to uphold the law. In this way the same State Department that claims to oppose unilateral actions by both sides has actively supported unilateral building by the Arab side, while opposing building homes for Jews–in Jerusalem.
Second, the very notion that this is somehow about “prejudging final status issues” is absurd. All of the building permits are for housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods. This isn’t about placing new neighborhoods in otherwise Arab areas of Jerusalem. More importantly, the WikiLeaks documents revealed that in 2008 the Palestinians already accepted that the “final status” of these neighborhoods would be Israeli. Its not as if the people at the State Department aren’t aware of this, so why they would insist on picking a fight over this while supposedly trying to play the role of evenhanded mediator is no minor question.
Besides, even when the Israelis agreed to a ten-month building freeze for the last round of fruitless negotiations in 2009, that freeze was never supposed to extend to Jerusalem. This time around, rather than freeze building in West bank Jewish communities, Israel has been forced to release a cohort of terrorists just to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Now the U.S. government seems to be demanding a building freeze as well.
There is one other noteworthy point here about the final status of Jerusalem. Last week both John Kerry and Martin Indyk were treating everyone to a tantalizing sneak-peek of Kerry’s glittering proposals for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These, we were being told, were about to be put to the two parties for them to either accept or reject as part of Kerry’s negotiation deadline due in April. Then it became apparent that that the Palestinians really weren’t joking when they said they were never going to accept the Jewish state. (Who could have guessed?) Now Psaki is denying that these same proposals even exist. Speaking yesterday Psaki asserted “nobody knows what is in the framework (agreement), there is not a final framework.”
Anyway, in the framework that now never existed, we were told that the aspect relating to Jerusalem would be vague, but that the Palestinians were going to have part of Jerusalem for a capital, although by all accounts not enough of it for Abbas’s liking. So it seems that Kerry has been sent back to the drawing board to come up with something better on that. Meanwhile the State Department would appear to be trying to create a smokescreen and a distraction by condemning Israeli building in Israeli neighborhoods that even the Palestinians say will remain part of Israel.