Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
JERUSALEM – In anticipation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington next month, the Obama administration has been briefing Congress on its position regarding establishing a Palestinian state, according to informed Israeli diplomatic sources.
The sources said Obama’s team fears Netanyahu may try to rally support in Congress against the president’s policies, prompting the White House to act first by detailing for members of Congress Obama’s positions regarding a Palestinian state and freezing Jewish construction in the West Bank. The White House is stressing that it holds Israel’s security paramount but that Obama believes establishing a Palestinian state is crucial for Middle East peace.
The diplomatic sources, who also spoke with a reporter from Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, said Obama anticipates a possible clash with Netanyahu on several issues, particularly the freezing of Jewish construction in both the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
The West Bank borders Jerusalem and is within rocket range of Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport. The Palestinians hope to establish a state in Gaza, the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City and Temple Mount.
Earlier this week, WND reported that under intense American pressure and following a nearly unprecedented behind-the-scenes U.S. campaign, the Netanyahu government decided not to bulldoze Palestinians homes built illegally on Jewish-owned property in Jerusalem.
The issue is critical since the 80 homes are located in Silwan, an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood close to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City that the Palestinians claim as a future capital. Jewish groups have been working to fortify the community’s Jewish presence. Silwan is adjacent to the City of David, a massive archeological dig just outside the Temple Mount that is constantly turning up Temple artifacts.
Like tens of thousands of other Arab housing projects throughout eastern Jerusalem, the Palestinian homes in Silwan were illegally constructed on property long ago purchased by Jews. The Israeli government ordered the structures’ legal demolition.
But during a visit here in early March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly protested the planned bulldozing.
“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the Road Map,” she said. “It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem.”
The Road Map calls for Israel to freeze Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank but does not bar Israel from dismantling illegally constructed Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.
WND has learned that in the weeks since Clinton’s visit here, the U.S. has mounted an intensive campaign lobbying the Israeli government against tearing down the illegal Palestinian homes in Silwan. The campaign included letters from the Middle East section of the State Department addressed to various Jerusalem municipalities, with copies of the letters sent to the offices of Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister. The letters called on Israel to allow the illegal Palestinian homes in Silwan to remain and stated any demolitions would not foster an atmosphere of peace.
Also, in a follow-up visit here, State Department officials made it clear to their Israeli counterparts the U.S. opposes the Silwan bulldozing.
According to sources in the Israeli government, including in Netanyahu’s administration, a decision has been made not to bulldoze the illegal Palestinian homes. The sources said the issue of the homes may be raised again in the future, but for the time being the houses will remain in tact.
The sources attributed the decision against the bulldozing – which has not yet been announced – to the intense American campaign against the house demolitions.
Said one source in Netanyahu’s administration, “This was very frustrating to us. Can you imagine if a foreign government came in and told a city office in the U.S. not to tear down a house that was illegally constructed on someone else’s property?”
While Clinton opposed the Palestinian house demolitions, informed Israeli officials said the Obama administration is carefully monitoring Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem and has already protested to the highest levels of Israeli government about evidence of housing expansion in those areas.
The officials, who spoke on condition that their names be withheld, said that last month Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, oversaw the establishment of an apparatus based in the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem that closely monitors eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, incorporating regular tours on a daily basis.
The officials said that in recent meetings Mitchell strongly protested Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem. Mitchell also condemned the work of nationalist Jewish groups to purchase property in Jerusalem’s Old City, including in areas intimately tied to Judaism.
Israel recaptured eastern Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War. The Palestinians, however, have claimed eastern Jerusalem as a future capital. About 244,000 Arabs live in Jerusalem, mostly in eastern neighborhoods, out of a total population of 724,000, the majority Jewish.