Side by Side Project - weekly updateSide By Side Project
Peace We Can is glad to announce a new project that will be following media coverage of hot issues connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our goal is to demonstrate, by comparison, the similarity or difference between the different points of view.
The first Issue this week, is about the Israeli building plans in East Jerusalem. Since Mid-December, Israel has attracted international criticism for its decision to build in various locations in the Jerusalem area. For a neutral summary of the issue, read AP News’ summary of the issue.
The timing of the Israeli government’s decision to build in Jerusalem has been attributed to an attempt to punish the Palestinians for their decision to declare their independence at the UN General assembly. Yet the reason behind the decision itself goes back to the larger issue of the struggle over establishing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
As explained in the Right Wing website “Channel 7” by Prof. Efraim Inbar, building in eastern Jerusalem serves the purpose of strategically blocking the Palestinians’ territorial continuity- more specifically, the building in the E1 zone of Ma’ale Adumim, “protects” the Israeli presence in both Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley by breaking up the Palestinian population into isolated chunks. Such building ensures that a partition of Jerusalem in any future agreement is practically impossible without large displacements of the Jewish population, an act that would be very unpopular. On the national politics level, It should be mentioned that Israelis have in the past year been preoccupied with a “housing crisis” - the rising price of renting and buying real estate in Israel that has sent the previous summer thousands of Israelis to protest in the streets. Therefore, as Nadav Shragai explains in “Yisrael Hayom” (a free tabloid owned by Sheldon Adelson), building in Jerusalem will provide a solution to the housing crisis and stop the migration of Jewish population from Jerusalem.
In conclusion, the building plans serve a dual purpose for the Israeli government- they serve on the one hand as a provocation towards the Palestinians and also to strategically block the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, and on the other hand it allows the government to present itself as responsive to popular demand for cheap housing.
Both Inbar and Shragai claim that withstanding international pressure to stop the building can be an opportunity for Israel to display inner strength and determination. They believe that implementing such an isolationist policy would prove to its citizens that Israel’s interests are more important than protecting its standing in the world, and that would promote unity in the Israeli public. Therefore, they urge the government to go through with its plan, disregarding the consequences of such an action.
On the other side, The Palestinians in their coverage do not distinguish between Israel’s building on Palestinian Lands, such as the E1 Zone, to the building in Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods that belong to uncontested lands, such as Givat Hamatos or Ramat Shlomo neighborhoods, which are not even located in east Jerusalem. Although strictly speaking, all the building plans in Israel‘s announcements exist on the “wrong” side of the ‘67 border, some parts of Jerusalem belong to “western Jerusalem” in both Israeli and Palestinian consciousness. During the 2000 Camp David negotiation, Israel’s offer for the division of Jerusalem included these neighborhoods on the “Israeli side” of the border. The Palestinians rejected that offer, but they didn’t object to the inclusion of these neighborhoods but instead raised their disagreement regarding who would control the “holy basin” area of the old city and its surroundings. These neighborhoods are mostly relatively new (from the 80’s onwards) and are part of a continuum of Jewish neighborhoods. On the other hand, suburban cities surrounding Jerusalem such as Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Zeev are perceived as settlements also in Israeli eyes. Israel’s decision to announce several different building plans in the Jerusalem area at the same time has strengthened the appearance that all the plans refer to “illegal settlements” and any attempt to expand them is a cause for grievance for the Palestinians, as seen on Hamas identified website “The Palestinian Information Center”.
To summarize this short review – both sides show an inflexibility when it comes to the issue of Jerusalem, and attempt to use this issue to pressurize each other on the political and diplomatic arena. Both sides attempt to blur the differences between building in settlements and in the municipal area of Jerusalem - which plays into the attempt of Israel to present the Palestinians as unreasonable in its response to any building plans.
From the desk of Yitzhak Frankenthal, Director of Arik Institute:
There is no lack of suitable lands to build on in Jerusalem; this is not a case of land shortages or building to suit the needs of the citizens. Even in some neighborhoods the residents are petitioning against the building plans such as in Ramat Shlomo where the residents claim the expansions will cause overcrowding. This is a deliberate provocation of the Palestinians and a rude show of disrespect towards many countries in the world.
It should be realized, that in the metropolitan of Jerusalem there are 13,000 Arab residents. The state of Israel has adopted a policy of not authorizing building permits for the Arabs of Jerusalem- The number of permits in Arab neighborhoods per year is a very low number of 200- when compared to thousands of permits for Jewish neighborhoods.
That is a wicked way to abuse the Arabs of Jerusalem, only to score some points in an ongoing conflict.
In conclusion, I must say I’m writing these things out of a deep sense of pain, since as an observant Jew, a Zionist and an Israeli who cares for his people and has served in the army. It hurts me to see these misdeeds perpetuated in the so called name of my religion for my country. As far as I’m concerned, there is no greater blasphemy than the use of religion in such a despicable way, going against the basic rights of freedom and respect of man. The Arik Institute and I make every effort to show the Israeli (and Palestinian) public the wrongdoing taking place.