In the midst of a profile of Secretary of State Clinton, Joe Klein drops a pretty shocking tidbit:
The Palestinians are weak and divided. The Israelis have been difficult, as always: whenever Mitchell raises East Jerusalem in talks with the Israeli Foreign Minister, the Israeli stands up and walks out of the room. Despite Netanyahu’s momentary, tactical enthusiasm for peace talks, his Likud Party has always favored the de facto incorporation of Palestinian lands into the state of Israel.
This is how Israel treats the guarantor of its security? It seems to me that if Prime Minister Netanyahu was actually serious about getting the U.S. to move with greater urgency on Iran — instead of just using the Iran threat (and the Goldstone Report, and whatever else is at hand at any given moment) to forestall serious 2-state negotiations — he might instruct his foreign minister not to behave this way toward the president’s special envoy. That he does not tells you a lot about what the current Israeli government’s actual priorities are.
Klein’s point about the Likud Party’s policy toward the taking of Palestinian lands is also important, and far too little reported. The Likud Party constitution states that “The government headed by the Likud will keep Jerusalem the unified capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty.” Understanding the importance of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, saying that Netanyahu supports a negotiated solution but won’t allow for Palestinian sovereignty of Palestinian areas of Jerusalem is like saying that Abbas supports a Jewish state as long as it’s in Burma. It’s a non-starter.
In the face of protests by the United States and the international community, under Netanyahu the Israelis have in fact been ramping up efforts to preclude any division of Jerusalem by strengthening the Jewish presence in Palestinian areas. A new study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation found that, since 1967, “Israel has expropriated some 35 per cent of East Jerusalem’s territory, over 24,000 dunums of land, from its Palestinian owners”:
The study by the Germany-based organisation examined the building policies in Jerusalem intended to change the facts on the ground and ensure a solid Jewish majority in the city, said a statement e-mailed to The Jordan Times yesterday.
“The study highlights that since 1967, Israeli governments developed building and planning policies that were designed primarily according to the current struggle occurring in Jerusalem. The central tool used by the Israeli governments was the expropriation of land from private hands,” the press release said, adding: “Since 1967, Israel has expropriated over 24,000 dunums, mostly from their Palestinian owners.”
The report, which was prepared in partnership with the Macro Centre for Political Economics, indicated that about 50,000 housing units were built exclusively for the Jewish Israeli population within the framework of new neighbourhoods/settlements, while for the Palestinian population, Israel has built fewer than 600 housing units since 1967 in the scope of government assistance, the most recent of which was built over 30 years ago.
To be fair, this isn’t just a problem of the Likud. All Israeli governments since 1967 are implicated in the attempt to change the demographic character of Jerusalem in order to diminish the Palestinian’s claim to it. The latest report only confirms work done by other organizations like Israel’s B’Tselem, who report that “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.” Israel’s policy, according to B’Tselem, “gravely infringes the rights of residents of East Jerusalem and flagrantly breaches international law.”
In March, an EU report accused the Israeli government “of using settlement expansion, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies and the West Bank barrier as a way of ‘actively pursuing the illegal annexation’ of East Jerusalem.”
The document says Israel has accelerated its plans for East Jerusalem, and is undermining the Palestinian Authority’s credibility and weakening support for peace talks. “Israel’s actions in and around Jerusalem constitute one of the most acute challenges to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making,” says the document, EU Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem.
Probably shouldn’t hold your breath for Congress to jump on this. On a GOP delegation to Israel in August, Rep. Eric Cantor spoke out strongly in favor of Israel’s right to evict Palestinian families to make way for Jewish settlers.
Americans for Peace Now’s Noam Shelef writes “Rising tensions in Jerusalem can be a matter of life and death. Past Israeli actions that were perceived as efforts to change the status quo in the Old City — such as the opening of the Hasmonean Tunnel in 1996 or the visit to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon in 2000 — triggered riots that caused many casualties.” In the event that continuing Israeli provocations in East Jerusalem result in a violent Palestinian response — as many increasingly fear they might — you can bet Congress will hop to it to sign another AIPAC-penned resolution blaming the Palestinians for everything.