Much has been written in recent weeks about the announcement of new construction permits in Jerusalem. The timing of the announcement was unfortunate and embarrassing, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for it. But lost in the noise were some basic facts about the dispute and its broader context. Here’s an opportunity to set the record straight.
1. The construction in question is not in “Arab East Jerusalem,” but in a Jewish neighborhood in the northern part of the city. Yes, it’s beyond the “Green Line” — the undeclared and unrecognized border between Israel and Jordan from 1948 to 1967. But under every conceivable two-state scenario, including those advanced by President Clinton at Camp David in 2000 and by President Bush in his 2004 letter to Israeli prime minister Sharon, these areas would be excluded from any future Palestinian state.
2. Jerusalem is not a “settlement.” The 3,000-year-old city — which has had a Jewish majority since 1870 — is the united capital of Israel, not part of the occupied West Bank. Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries include Arab neighborhoods, and all its residents are — or have the right to become — Israeli citizens. While it is true that many in the Arab world have refused to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem, many of them also refuse to recognize its sovereignty over Tel Aviv and the rest of pre-1967 Israel.
3. Settlements are not the obstacle to peace. Israel has twice removed settlements and displaced civilians in its quest for peace, once following the 1980 peace accord with Egypt and again during the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Alternately, a future peace agreement could include population exchanges (20 percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinian Arabs) or border adjustments, or allow Israeli Jews to remain in a future Palestine just as there are Palestinian Arabs living as full citizens in Israel. The true obstacles to peace are Arab denial of Israel’s legitimacy within any borders, continued anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement and demonization, and the genocidal Islamist rule of Hamas in Gaza.
4. The Obama administration is now opposing an Israeli policy that it explicitly praised only four months ago. In November 2009, despite heavy domestic criticism and political risk, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a 10-month moratorium on new construction in the West Bank — explicitly excluding Jerusalem. At the time, Hilary Clinton found that announcement “unprecedented” — which it was — and praised it as a “move forward.” Now the U.S. government has reversed course, condemning the very same policy it previously applauded.
5. American intervention is not helping the peace process. On the contrary, the Obama administration’s insistence last summer that Israel halt all settlement expansion set back the talks by at least a year, as the Palestinian Authority and Arab League adopted that demand as a precondition to any further negotiation. Israel and the Palestinians had been in direct talks for at least the last 17 years, during which time Jewish settlement population increased under a succession of Israeli governments from both the right and the left. The American requirement for a settlement freeze has caused a hardening of the Palestinian and Arab positions and made it more difficult to resume direct bilateral discussions on final-status issues.
6. Disputes between friends should be resolved privately, not in the media. Every friendship has its disagreements, and the long-term U.S.-Israel alliance is no different. But when friends disagree, they should work out their conflicts and reach agreement without public proclamations and posturing that only inflame the situation.
The Obama administration should tone down the rhetoric and focus on restarting negotiations. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved through direct, bilateral talks in which all issues — including Israeli construction, settlements, final borders, the future of Jerusalem, population exchanges and security arrangements — are discussed under mutual recognition and trust.