Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NYT: Israeli Moves In East Jerusalem, Old City Raise Tensions

The New York Times recently reported on Israeli moves to increasingly lay claim to East Jerusalem and the Old City:

A series of recent Israeli actions in the mainly Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem have raised tensions there, with Palestinian and Israeli critics contending that they are part of a wider plan to “Judaize” historically charged areas around the Old City.

The actions, ostensibly unconnected, include the demolition of two Arab homes in Silwan, a neighborhood adjacent to the Old City above the ruins of an ancient Jewish site; the start of a controversial infrastructure project there; and the eviction of a Palestinian family from its home in Sheik Jarrah, another neighborhood coveted by Jewish nationalists near the Old City.

None of these actions in themselves are that unusual here. But the spate of high-profile, highly symbolic moves in the past few weeks has reignited concerns that an increasing Jewish presence in Arab areas will further complicate the chances of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian political agreement based on a two-state solution, which calls for a division of powers in a shared capital.

And they come as a new Jerusalem mayor who has vocally supported expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem takes office.

“East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state,” said Hatem Abdel Qader, an adviser on Jerusalem affairs to the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad. “Israel is trying to create facts on the ground and determine the results before we reach any solution.”

...“Several elements combine to make the situation in Jerusalem much more dangerous,” said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, a left-wing Israeli group that opposes Jewish settlements in areas that are expected to be part a Palestinian state. The conditions are ideal, she said, “for settlers to seek to force their agenda without fear of challenge or repercussions.”

Such Israeli actions make a two-state solution impossible, as no Palestinian would accept a state without its capital located in East Jerusalem. In addition, the swallowing of East Jerusalem would bring into Israel thousands of Palestinians whose allegiance is to their own nation–surely not a move conducive to Israel's security. 

One Israeli who is looking at the situation more realistically is the outgoing prime minister, Ehud Olmert. He recently said that Israel should withdraw from most of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. Any land held over from the West Bank, in Olmert's view, should be swapped for Israeli territory. Israel would do well to heed Olmert's warnings before pressing forward in Jerusalem:

“I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.”

He said that maintaining sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem, Israel’s official policy, would involve bringing 270,000 Palestinians inside Israel’s security barrier. It would mean a continuing risk of terrorist attacks against civilians like those carried out this year by Jerusalem Palestinian residents with front-end loaders.

...The government’s public stand on Jerusalem until now has been to assert that the status of the city was not under discussion. But Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded “with special solutions” for the holy sites.

For further information on house demolitions in Silwan, East Jerusalem, from B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, click here.

Photo of Israeli settlement in Silwan from Palestine Monitor.

No comments: