Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Construction in Jerusalem

The White House is peeved at Israeli plans to build 700 apartments in East Jerusalem (well, north and south-east Jerusalem). So are the Swedes, if you care, and more significantly, so are the moderate Palestinians who are Israel's putative negotiating partners.

The Mondoweiss universe is derisive, but the sun also rises in the east, so that's OK.

Jeffrey Goldberg gives some context, but still regrets the decision.
I understand the impulse behind the building of these housing units. They are going up in areas that no one -- Israeli, Palestinian, or American -- believes will become part of the Palestinian state. They are being built on land that will be swapped for territory now under Israeli sovereignty. The Netanyahu government, under pressure from the Obama Administration, is trying to solidify even further -- these neighborhoods are already thickly-built -- Israel's claim to these places. So the impulse is understandable, but Netanyahu shouldn't give in to this impulse, for two reasons. One, he will never please the settlers and their partisans in the cabinet. They will always demand more. Two, building like this, and right now, undermines Israel's relationship with the United States, at a crucial moment. Next year may be the year of decision on the Iranian nuclear program, which Netanyahu calls an existential threat to his country. You would think that he would want the strongest possible bond just now with the American president. But this new building binge only serves to alienate the President, and for what? Does Israel's existence depend on these 700 apartments?
I like Jeffrey, and once told him I agree with him 88% of the time. In this case I fully understand his position, which unlike the Swedish one is well-informed, but beg to disagree.

These neighborhoods are not and never will be part of a Palestinian state. There are more than 100,000 Jews living in them. Adding 700 apartments for, say, 3,500 people in neighborhoods that already have 100,000, shouldn't be a news item; demanding that 100,000 people not expand merely as a symbolic tactic should be newsworthy for its peculiarity.

The fundamental problem with the demand is that it emphasizes how very shaky the prospects of peace are, so shaky that Israel is required to make-believe and pretend so as to create an undefinable positive atmosphere.

Peace between Israel and Palestine will succeed only if everyone honestly accepts what it's about, and sincerely accepts the compromises both sides will be required to make. That means the Israelis accept that the Palestinians be sovereign and the occupation truly end; it means the Palestinians accept we're here to stay and don't need their permission to live our national life. Pretending that new apartments in Pisgat Zeev somehow offend Palestinian sensibilities merely demonstrates that Palestinians still hope we'll not be there eventually.

Another way to put this is that peace must be achieved by adults.


Anonymous said...

when I read Goldberg's post this morning I felt reminded of a lot of patronising admonishing of bosses who wanted to avoid facing their more troublesome underlings and thus preferred the easy route which of course is to lean on the more reasonable ones asking them to be generous to keep the harmony going.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree.

The issue is not whether building additional housing is defensible. As you point out, it is occurring in areas that everyone acknowledges will become part of Israel in any agreement, should one ever materialize.

But defensible does not equal wise. What matters more in these situations is the symbolism represented by the decision, its effect on international opinion and in the context of the present negotiating impasse. As you well know, any action taken by Israel in respect to territories over which she obtained sovereignty in 1967 has a larger significance when broadcast to the rest of the world. Once the decision is presented, reasoned arguments like yours are swallowed up by the larger issue. The fact that these neighborhoods already exist and the planned housing is just a drop in the bucket is beside the point. World opinion has no patience for these details. Rightly or wrongly, the message it sends is that Israel doesn't much care about the demands of the Palestinians or international norms and will continue its project of making its annexation of all of Jerusalem irreversible. It gives the Palestinians a fresh excuse (as if one were needed) to continue boycotting negotiations while Israel is forced to defend its decision on the basis of detailed city maps. Hardly compelling.

It is precisely because the prospects of peace are so shaky that symbolism is so important. Is Israel being held to a higher standard? Absolutely. As well it should. Is it impossibly high? Surely not. If, as you indicate, the 700 units are so inconsequential, surely Israel can forego their construction to force the PA to put its money where its mouth is and return to the table and as a symbol to the world of its commitment to reaching an accomodation. Instead, the headline of "Israel Plans New Jerusalem Construction" sends the opposite message.

By the way, I've been following this blog for some time and I'd say I agree with you 60% of the time and always appreciate your direct and incisive commentary.

Josh Scheier

Yaacov said...

Thanks Josh. 60% is pretty good, I'd say.

I respectfully disagree back. Ultimately, there's only one country in the world which will be called upon to reduce it's ability to defend itself in return for peace with the Palestinians, and that's Israel. For the Israeli electorate to agree to that they have to feel it's a reasonable risk to take - for risk it will be.

If the Palestinians put childish symbols before adult considerations, the chance we'll risk our lives for their benifit will be limited.

Some symbols aren't childish, such as the Templ Mount/Haram elSharif. But this one is very childish.

THe American administration also must recognize this dynamic. The Swedes: not. Becuase no-one cares about the Swedes.

Anonymous said...

You're lucky I'm not a Swede!

Anonymous said...

why should Israel be held to a higher standard????

and higher standard in which respects measured against what?
skillful PR,
superhuman meekness,
holier than thou ethics?

a demand like that seems to me to smack of reverse discrimination ...


Avigdor said...

Israel is not being held to a "higher" standard, just a different standard. There is nothing intrinsically "higher" in the approach Israel is being pressured to take. If Sweden, France, or Germany feel this is the "higher" approach, then let THEM freeze construction in their capitals as a gesture of good will and solidarity with Israel. Then we'll talk.

Anonymous said...

By higher standard I was referring to my own sentiments. Of course, it's hypocritical of the world at large to insist on impossibly high standards from Israel while giving a pass to her sworn enemies. As an American with deep ties to Israel, however, I apply a higher standard in judging Israel's actions. Consider that the price of my (for lack of a better word at this early hour) allegiance. So, when Israel insists on going forward with housing construction on disputed territory, a decision that is nearly universally perceived as thumbing its nose at an important ally, the international community and the Palestinians themselves, my application of that higher standard says it's just not the right thing to do, regardless of the fact that it is on land that while officially "disputed" everyone recognizes will become part of Israel in a negotiated settlement. Even if the entire "dispute" is symbolic, it is the wrong symbol.

I hope that clarifies.


Portable Storage said...

I think that it is not about construction in Jerusalem but it is about making construction on other territory forcefully.I completely support Plaestine who is fighting for their territory.What do you think of portable storage (containers) if it is rented for only $59.99/month or less than that?

Portable Storage,

Anonymous said...

no Josh it doesn't clarify
- I am not smart enough to argue against your point on any lofty level, but my gut feeling says you are wrong
- after all in everyday life I side with every friend who is in danger of being coaxed into delivering more than one could expect of any decent person.
Also: in office feuds those who manage to usurp the holier-than-thou-throne turned invariably out to be part of the problem.
In my world view (and experience) everyday life "wisdoms" apply to states just as well and so Israel has all the right to protest in rightful indignation at any demand of spinning another room full of straw into gold undermining thereby the plans of those who want to start families or live out their retirement or whatever in those apartments. Remember, everywhere else assisting a community in staying close is considered a virtue

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.