This was an unfortunate bit of he said/she said reporting in the Washington Post’s story on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejecting the U.S.’s request that Israel halt building on Jerusalem land seized from Palestinians:
Palestinians argue that continued Israeli building in East Jerusalem is meant to change the demographics of the area and make it harder for them to establish a capital there.
[Israeli Ambassador Michael] Oren said that the neighborhood where the building would be located, Sheikh Jarrah, includes several Israeli government and diplomatic buildings and that the project “does not represent any attempt to alter the demographic balance” of the area overall.
Of course, it’s not just Palestinians who claim that continued Israeli building in East Jerusalem is meant to change the demographics of the area. Numerous Israeli organizations agree. Human rights group B’Tselem’s reports that “since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967, the government of Israel’s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city”:
To achieve this goal, the government has been taking actions to increase the number of Jews, and reduce the number of Palestinians, living in the city.
– Physically isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, in part by building the separation barrier;
– Discriminating in land expropriation, planning, and building, and demolition of houses;
– Revoking residency and social benefits of Palestinians who stay abroad for at least seven years, or who are unable to prove that their center of life is in Jerusalem;
– Unfairly dividing the budget between the two parts of the city, with harmful effects on infrastructure and services in East Jerusalem.
Israel’s Ir Amim, a group that supports equitable treatment in Jerusalem, said in a report on the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that “These developments strengthen Israeli control of this area and thwart the feasibility of future agreed-upon borders for Jerusalem.”
Ambassador Oren’s claim is also belied by documents from the Israeli government itself. Last month, the New York Times reported that Israel was “carrying out a $100 million, multiyear development plan in some of the most significant religious and national heritage sites just outside the walled Old City here as part of an effort to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as its capital.”
The plan, parts of which have been outsourced to a private group that is simultaneously buying up Palestinian property for Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, has drawn almost no public or international scrutiny. However, certain elements related to it — the threatened destruction of unauthorized Palestinian housing in the redevelopment areas, for example — have brought widespread condemnation.[…]
The government development plan was first agreed upon in 2005 “to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” as it states in its opening line, and became operational in the past year, with the prime minister’s office and the municipality jointly responsible.
I don’t expect the Washington Post to call the Israeli ambassador a liar, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask that the Post provide a remotely accurate rendering of the dispute. Such a rendering might note that Ambassador Oren said one thing, but that Palestinians, Israeli human rights groups, the United Nations’ human rights envoy for the Palestinian Territories, and internal Israeli government documents all say the opposite.