By Daniel Chejfec
The issue of Israeli building in East Jerusalem has become a very hot issue because of the implications of the treatment bestowed by Obama upon Netanyahu. Maybe it would be useful to remember some facts about Jerusalem.
1- Jews have been the dominant ethnic-religious group in the city since the 1860s
2- Many of the areas where Jews built in East Jerusalem, especially in the northern part of the city, were in fact owned by the Jewish National Fund since before 1948, and those property rights were respected by the occupying Jordanian army between 1948 and 1967.
3- Between 1948 and 1967 Jews were prohibited from visiting Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall
4- Since 1967 Muslims from all over the Arab world and beyond visit Jerusalem and the Haram-Al-Sharif on a regular basis
5- The Jewish Quarter of the Old City, that contained some synagogues dating as far back as the XIII Century, was completely destroyed by the Arab legion after expelling the Jews in 1948
6- While Israel assigns funds for the maintenance of cemeteries of all faiths in Jerusalem, the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was desecrated by the Jordanians and the tombstones used for the building of latrines.
7- Palestinian opinion polls have consistently shown that most Palestinians believe that "Jerusalem" refers to both East and West Jerusalem, and that it should be part of the Palestinian State.
While all of the above and more is true, the following facts are also true:
1- While Israel considers East Jerusalem part of its capital, no country ever recognized Israel's annexation of the Eastern part of the city, thus creating a situation in which Israel believes it has the right to build in its Capital city, but others see it as building on Palestinian lands.
2- While Israel expanded the Municipal authority of Jerusalem to the Eastern sector of the city, investment in infrastructure has been very unequal in favor of the Jewish sectors of the city.
3- While Palestinians living in East Jerusalem enjoy residency permits in Israel, giving them access to the whole country, these permits can and often are, summarily annulled if the holder spends more than six months abroad.
4- The Central and Southern areas of East Jerusalem are overwhelmingly Palestinian areas and the majority of those living there would prefer to be under Palestinian jurisdiction.
While Israel is justifiably distrustful of Palestinians because of their track record of incitement to anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish hatred, and hesitant to consider transferring any part of Jerusalem to Palestinian control for security reasons (again, for very good reasons), it also faces a moral dilemma: since occupying the Eastern sector of the city in 1967 it has done next to nothing to integrate the Arab areas of the city in to a unified Jerusalem, and while Israelis talked over time of an "undivided city" the facts on the ground speak of an ongoing situation that resembles more a tale of two cities. If Israel insist on retaining the Eastern sector of Jerusalem, it will have to resolve these differences and treat residents of East Jerusalem as full-fledged Israeli citizens with the same rights to services as any other Israeli.
While all the above I believe it to be true, another truth is that the treatment of Netanyahu by Obama was not the consequence of an ill-timed announcement of construction, but the announcement was rather used as a pretext to pursue a Middle East foreign policy in which the US takes distance from Israel and cozies to the Arab world.
As for Israel, while it will have to deal with the dilemma of Arab Jerusalem, in the larger picture it might also be possible (using the language of the Passover season) that:
- If Israel gives up all of Eastern Jerusalem, it will NOT be enough
- If Israel gives up all of the West Bank, it will NOT be enough
- If Israel accepts all the descendants of the Arab refugees of 1948 into Israel and give them citizenship, it will NOT be enough
- If Israel publicly accept responsibility for the Arab refugee crisis and offers reparations, it will NOT be enough
And it will NOT be enough because the argument is not about Real Estate, but about the basic refusal of most Palestinians and other Arabs to accept the existence of a non-Muslim state in the Mashreq (Fertile Crescent), and a Jewish (or Christian) presence that doesn't defer to Muslim superiority.
Israel needs to resolve its moral dilemma regarding East Jerusalem, but Arabs need to resolve their unwillingness to accept others as equals and recognize their rights.