Vice President Joe Biden, speaking for the Obama administration at Tel Aviv University this week, decried Israel’s announcement that 1,600 apartments would be built in Jerusalem, saying it “undermined the trust required for negotiations.”
Biden was speaking for President Barack Obama, but does the Obama administration speak for the American people? Fifteen years ago, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which stated that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.” A loophole in the act has allowed presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama to postpone implementing it for reasons of so-called national security, but the Jerusalem law remains the will of the American people.
Washington, D.C., has been the capital of the United States for about 200 years, and no Israeli politician would presume to question plans for housing in the District of Columbia. Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for about 3,000 years, since the time of King David – yet for 15 years no president has seen fit to move America’s embassy there.
The reactions to the Jerusalem housing plan were a spectacle of hypocrisy in the theater of the absurd, beginning with the condemnation by the Obama administration and followed by the expected handwringing of the European Community. They were exceeded only by the blatant hypocrisy of Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.
Besides their political agenda, all of these reactions reflect a basic ignorance of the actual geography and history of Jerusalem. It is no coincidence that this week’s brouhaha over Jerusalem housing followed the exact same script as a similar housing alarm several months ago.
The latest Israeli “threat to the peace process” involves municipal approval for 1,600 badly needed housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, located – surprise! – in northwest Jerusalem. It is a sign of the basic irrationality of the conflict that every point on the Jerusalem compass is referred to erroneously as “East Jerusalem.” This loaded term is cynically used to designate anywhere that Arabs live in the city, despite the reality that more Jews than Arabs live in Jerusalem’s geographically eastern neighborhoods.
The eternal capital of the Jewish people was reunited in June 1967, after being divided under Jordanian occupation for 19 years. Its municipal boundaries were established on June 28, 1967, and included the bare hillside that became Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood of devoutly religious Jews. As the crow flies, it is a couple of miles west of Jerusalem’s Old City, the only part of the city that truly justifies the moniker of East Jerusalem.
Ramat Shlomo is just as much a part of Jerusalem as Givat Ram, where the Knesset, the Supreme Court and other government institutions are located. Questioning Israel’s right to build apartments in Ramat Shlomo makes as much moral sense as questioning its right to locate its parliament or highest court in any part of the city.
Virtually the same hypocritical castigating of Israel’s sovereign right to build on its own land occurred last November regarding the southwest Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. Although the uproar over Gilo might have stemmed from the State Department’s ignorance of the difference between Har Gilo and Gilo, this is no excuse.
The former, the hilltop adjacent to Gilo, was the site of a Jordanian Arab Legion artillery position that shelled civilian Jerusalem repeatedly over the years and was captured by Israel during the Six Day War. As it lies over the Green Line, this disputed territory – even though it was captured in a war of self-defense – is indeed not an appropriate place for building a planned 900 Israeli apartments.
However, the land upon which Jerusalem’s southernmost neighborhood of Gilo was built – of course referred to as East Jerusalem – was purchased from its Arab owners by the Jewish National Fund before 1948. Gilo was once indeed occupied territory: It was Jordanian-occupied Israeli territory from 1948 to 1967, after which its Israeli sovereignty was restored.
It is as insulting for the Obama administration to object to construction in an area that has always been part of Israel’s capital as it would be to object to similar construction in Tel Aviv.
With all this loose talk about Israel undermining trust, what really deserves condemnation by the United States is the unceasing incitement against Israel by the Palestinian Authority. To cite just the latest example, why didn’t Vice President Biden condemn the PA for scheduling a ceremony in Ramallah during his visit to name a public square there for Dalal Mughrabi, the terrorist who led a 1978 massacre in which 37 Israeli civilians were murdered, 12 of them children?
Contrary to agreements it signed, the Palestinian Authority’s textbooks continue to teach little children that murderers are heroes. The PA names schools, youth movements, sports teams, even streets to glorify terrorism – and breed a new generation of terrorists. And don’t forget that Hamas still calls for Israel’s destruction. So who is undermining whose trust?