Whenever I’ve spoken to visitors to the US who are concerned about the settlement situation in the vicinity of Jerusalem, the subject of hypothetical bloc E-1 always features prominently. You see maps like the one I’ve posted below:
Build something on that pale blue splotch that becomes part of Israel, and East Jerusalem would be necessarily cut off from any hypothetical Palestinian state on the West Bank. Consequently, that particular plan has always been enough of a hot spot that US pressure has succeeded in getting it not built. Come to Jerusalem for yourself and instead of a splotchy map you get to see what it actually looks like:
Quite a beautiful view of empty space leading into the unpopulated desert.
But in addition to those kind of measures, there’s also smaller-bore activities under way whereby Israelis claim pre-1948 ownership of East Jerusalem property, evict the current Palestinian residents, and then move in. Such goings-on in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood are now the locus of a lively protest movement that we visited briefly before an unexpected rainfall sent a lot of people scattering:
Unlike E-1, something like one Jewish house more or less east of the old Green Line doesn’t permanently imperil the chances of peace. But the individual acts of injustice are more concrete. There’s also something deeply ironic about the way these claims are anchored in the idea of a “right of return” to pre-1948 Jewish-owned land when the crux of the Israeli position on the “right of return” to pre-1948 Palestinian owned land west of the Green Line is the observation that recognizing such a right in general terms would make a two state solution impossible. And so it would!
I also today had the opportunity to meet several Palestinians who explained that, in essence, the Israeli right is correct and all this talk of settlements is a red herring and Palestinians will never accept anything less than full equality between Jews and Arabs in all the land west of the Jordan River. And it’s of course possible that this is correct. But the Netanyahu government seems disinclined to actually find out. In general, a couple of days of sustained engagement with the participants in this conflict tends not to inspire a ton of optimism.