January 14, 2011
It's the same old story. We've heard it countless times before. Jews build homes in the Jewish State's capital city. Arabs complain about it. The EU, the US and the UK jump on the anti-Israel bandwagon and issue condemnations and describe such developments as an "obstacle to peace". Israel's enemies in the UK are emboldened. After all they have the might of the political establishment on their side. Reasonable and fair minded people are sidelined and labelled as extremists for daring to question this bizarre assessment of the situation.
What amazes me about this is that no-one seems to ask the obvious question, which is this: Even if Israel does agree to turn half of Jerusalem over to a future Palestinian State, on what moral, legal or ethical basis can that state then demand that it is cleansed of Jews? For this is the logical conclusion of demanding that Jewish families cease building homes in any parts of Jerusalem - whether or not those parts currently have an Arab majority. To me this seems a complete travesty, an outrage, something that anyone of fair mind should be really, really angry about. And yet our political leaders are nodding their heads and agreeing to such demands. What has led to this unconscionable betrayal of the Jewish people?
Let's put aside the issue of whether the demolition of a Jew-murdering Nazi sympathiser's former home, and the construction of schools, homes and hospitals for Jews represents an "obstacle to peace". Clearly it does not. The ONLY obstacle to peace is, and always has been, the Palestinian Authority's refusal to engage in direct negotiations for statehood. Israel's position is quite reasonable to anyone that has been paying attention, i.e.:
- We support Palestinian statehood in principal
- Core disagreements such as the status of Jerusalem, security, refugees etc must be negotiated in a civilised fashion
- Both parties must be committed to lasting peace and reconciliation if future bloodshed is to be avoided.
This is essentially what Benjamin Netanyahu has said, again and again, to western leaders, to Arab leaders, to Israelis and to Jewish organisations abroad. His position has remained entirely consistent. Yes we are prepared to endorse Palestinian Statehood - but only if it will be a state that is at peace with us. We are not prepared to commit national suicide and we are not prepared to accept preconditions to negotiations.
It's worth comparing this to the position adopted by the Palestinian Authority and its Arab interlocutors, which is presented to Western audiences as this:
- We want our own state with Jerusalem as the capital
- We are only willing to negotiate if the Israeli government uses force to stop Jews from building homes in the areas of Israel which we covet for our state and accepts our other demands.
Amazingly Netanyahu, who is known for his hawkish opposition to a Palestinian State within Israel, agreed to this and implemented a ten month "freeze" on Jewish construction in disputed areas - it was made perfectly clear at the time that this was a one-time offer, it would not be extended, and if the Arabs wanted to negotiate on this conditional basis then this would be their only opportunity for it. I am not sure whether this represented an ideological shift or whether this was in response to American pressure. But the fact that he did it, and managed to sell it to his government colleagues, is astounding and utterly unprecedented. And, as things turned out, it was all in vain.
Once the Arabs understood that all they had to do was make demands on Washington and Washington would obligingly pressure Israel with the same demands, they no longer saw any need for negotiation with Israel. So they could afford to sit and play the waiting game and let the Obama administration lobby Israel on their behalf. This was a huge strategic error on Obama's part, because it should be remembered that it was Washington, not Abbas, that first raised the issue of settlements on the international stage. As a consequence, rather than being an "honest broker" for negotiations, the US found itself in the position of advocate for one side - and it wasn't Israel's. The clock ticked, the months passed, and no talks were forthcoming. Until, that is, the last few weeks of the freeze, when Mahmoud Abbas finally agreed to direct negotiations - only to pull out again after a mere two weeks.
"Renew the freeze!" the Arabs demanded. Which was odd, since for ten months they'd said that although construction had been frozen, it hadn't been frozen enough. But now they wanted it renewed all the same. They cried to Washington about the nasty Jews building schools and homes. Washington, predictably, took their side and echoed their increasingly shrill demands. But Israel did not relent. We gave you ten months, they said. If that wasn't enough, nothing will be.
Incidentally, according to a recent YNet report, it was Washington that abandoned plans for an extension on the freeze, not Israel. Netanyahu has said that he would have been willing to extend the freeze if the Palestinians wished to negotiate in good faith, however the US decided that it would be a pointless exercise. This makes Hillary Clinton's recent condemnation of the redevelopment of the Shepherd Hotel especially puzzling.
Of course the Arab position makes no sense without understanding the real motives behind their public stance. To understand that one has to listen to what they say to each other, for example at the recent Fatah convention, when they repeated their assertion that all of Israel represents "occupied territory". While the West continues to pursue a "two-state" solution, the "moderate" Palestinian Authority is still working towards a "one-state" solution in which Jews are at best a minority under Islamic law.
Where does this leave western foreign policy, and where does it leave residents of Jerusalem? Should Israel bar Jews from living in any areas of Jerusalem while the US continues to try to force a square peg into a round hole and while Muslims are free to build whereever they wish? How long will this situation last? Three months? A year? Five years? It is patently ridiculous. The issue is not whether Jews should be allowed to live in Arab areas of Jerusalem, but what will happen to Jerusalem in the long term. Until that is decided it is unfathomable to expect the government of the Jewish State to limit Jewish freedom of movement and residence.
While the EU and the US envisage a divided Jerusalem, with the eastern half being Juhdenrein, the Arab leadership envisions all of Jerusalem being Juhdenrein and will accept nothing less. It is high time that our politicians recognise this fact and deal with the reality of the situation, not what they would like the reality to be. Furthermore, they see "dividing" Jerusalem into an Israeli half and an Arab half to be a neat compromise, but what is the point of a compromise that pleases no-one other than foreign politicians? The most important people to consider are the people that actually live in Jerusalem - and according to recent opinion polls there is very little support for dividing the city, and a significant percentage of Arabs have expressed a wish to remain citizens of Israel:
It is time for our leaders to stop pandering to extremist demands and to stop pursuing abstract political goals that will not make life any better for anyone in the region. It is time for Britain, the EU and the US to start behaving like honest brokers for peace, not partisans for an extremist cause. Their current path betrays both Arabs and Jews, destroys our reputation, and only serves to embolden hard-liners. The consequences will be disastrous.