Thanks to a deadlock engineered by the U.S. government, the Middle East peace process is stalled. President Obama began this stalemate last year when he called for a settlement freeze, and he escalates it now with a major change of American policy regarding Jerusalem.Zuckerman then goes through the history of Israel's control of Jerusalem. Always negotiations over the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians have included the assumption that East Jerusalem would remain with Israel. Now Obama is changing that assumption.
The president seeks to prohibit Israel from any construction in its capital, in particular in a Jewish suburb of East Jerusalem called Ramat Shlomo. This, despite the fact that all former administrations have unequivocally understood that the area in question would remain part of Israel under any final peace agreement. Objecting to any building in this East Jerusalem neighborhood is tantamount to getting the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem before final status talks with the Palestinians even begin.
From the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama has undermined Israel's confidence in U.S. support. He uses the same term—"settlements"—to describe massive neighborhoods that are home to tens of thousands of Jews and illegal outposts of a few families. His ambiguous use of this loaded word raises the question for Israelis about whether this administration really understands the issue.
It certainly sends signals to the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority followed the president's lead and refused to proceed with planned talks until Israel stops all so-called settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem.
President Obama's attitude toward Jerusalem betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the city.
The reality today is that in the area referred to as East Jerusalem— that is, an area north, south and east of the city's 1967 borders—there are roughly a half a million Jews and Arabs living in intertwined neighborhoods. The idea of a purely Jewish West Jerusalem or a purely Palestinian East Jerusalem is a myth: Building in particular neighborhoods in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.We know what would happen if the Arabs controlled this area of Jerusalem because we can look to how they behaved before.
Ramat Shlomo, the center of the most recent row, is a thriving community of over 100,000 Jews located between two larger Jewish communities called Ramat and French Hill. Its growth would in no way interfere with the contiguity of new Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. And in every peace agreement that has ever been discussed, these areas would remain a part of Israel.
No wonder the Israelis reacted so strongly when Mr. Obama called this neighborhood "a settlement." For over 43 years, there has been a tacit agreement that construction here did not constitute an obstacle to negotiations. Thus, the new policy was seen as an Obama administration effort to force Israel to accept the division of Jerusalem, taking yet another negotiating card off the table for the Israelis.
But what the world never remembers is what the Israelis can never forget. When Jordan controlled the eastern part of the city, including the Old City and the Western Wall (a retaining wall of the ancient Temple), it permitted reasonably free access to Christian holy places. But the Jews were denied any access to the Jewish holy places. This was a fundamental departure from the tradition of freedom of religious worship in the holy land, which had evolved over centuries, not to speak of a violation of the undertaking given by Jordan in the Armistice Agreement concluded with Israel in 1949. Nobody should expect the Jews to risk that again.And we can look to how the Palestinians behave now in case there were any doubt about what would happen if they were given control of East Jerusalem.
Since Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it has faithfully protected the rights and security of Christians, Muslims and Jews. Christians now control the Ten Stations of the Cross; Muslims control the Dome of the Rock. Yet the Palestinians often stone Jewish civilians praying at the Western Wall below. Their leaders and imams repeatedly deny the Jewish connection to Jewish holy sites. Freedom of religion in Jerusalem should not be compromised by American policy.Obama and Secretary fo State Clinton are ignoring all this history. Obama now is standing for real change, a bad change that is giving Palestinians a reason not to negotiate now in the hopes that they could gain something that they never had a hope of gaining under previous American presidents of either party - a divided Jerusalem where they could control the holy sites and deny Jews the chance to pray there.
That's not all. Dividing Jerusalem would put Palestinian forces and rockets a few miles from Israel's Parliament. And Jewish neighborhoods would be within range of light weapon and machine-gun fire. This is exactly what happened after the Oslo Accords, when the Palestinians fired from Beit Jalla toward Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood, wounding scores of residents.
The vast majority of Israelis believe Jerusalem must be shared—not divided. Even the great Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords, said in 1995: "There are not two Jerusalems; there is only one Jerusalem."