JERUSALEM – The international community is up in arms about an Israeli plan to construct 454 new homes on empty lots in already existing Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
Yet the same Western powers, along with the international news media, remain mysteriously silent as Palestinians continue to build illegally on undisputedly Jewish-owned land in the same areas.
This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government would push through with a decision to build more homes in Ramat Shlomo, an eastern Jerusalem community of about 20,000 Jews. Construction there was frozen in 2012 to avid tensions with the Obama administration.
The Palestinians claim eastern Jerusalem as their future capital. However, it is clear that any future Israeli-Palestinian deal will not see the evacuation of major Jewish communities from this area. The so-called Clinton parameters, set during the Camp David negotiations in summer 2000, stated that the Palestinian Authority would control largely Arab sections of eastern Jerusalem while Israel maintained the more Jewish sections.
In a harshly worded statement, Germany strongly criticized Netanyahu’s approval of the latest housing project:
“The plans of the Israeli government to press ahead with the building of settlements in Ramat Shlomo undermine efforts to achieve a peaceful solution of the Middle East conflict,” a German foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
“Against the backdrop of continued tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, all steps that could lead to an escalation should be avoided,” she said.
The U.S. also expressed disapproval of the Israeli housing plans, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying “We view this kind of activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace.”
Let’s put aside the uncomfortable questions raised by the idea that Jews should not be allowed to build in their own capital city. Can you imagine what would happen if a foreign country interfered in a zoning decision by a local U.S. municipality, and said that members of a certain race or religion could not build there?
The larger issue regards the lack of outcry over illegal Palestinian construction taking place in multiple Jerusalem communities, including the neighborhood of Shuafat, located just across from Ramat Shlomo.
The illegal Palestinian construction is also ongoing in the Jerusalem towns of Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya, and Samir Amis. Large swaths of these areas were legally purchased in the early 1920s by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which bought the lands for the specific purpose of Jewish settlement. Jews were booted from the area during the 1929 Arab riots in Palestine.
These JNF lands have since been used for the illegal construction of dozens of Arab apartment buildings, a refugee camp, and a UN school. A visit to Qalandiya reveals several new projects in the works.
It is true that Arabs first constructed illegally on this Jewish-owned land from 1948 and 1967 while it was occupied by Jordan. But the bulk of the illegal construction took place during the last decade and continues unabated.
Today, this Jewish-owned land is illegally occupied by the Palestinians in its entirety, replete with official Palestinian Authority logos and signs at the entrancesto the neighborhoods actually warning Israelis to keep out. And these districts have become hotbeds of Islamic radicalism,producing scores of Palestinian attackers.
Perhaps the international community should adopt a more balanced approach toward the sensitive issue of construction in the city of Jerusalem.