By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
It’s difficult not to see the authorization of the erection of another 1500 homes for Jews in East Jerusalem as a provocation, largely in response to the United Nations acknowledgement of the Palestinian Authority as (almost) a state, even if it seems to irritate even friendly governments, including the United States.
However, having watched Professor Moshe Amiram on television last night – I’ve never encountered him before – I was impressed by his argument that, at least in theory, the action need not impede peace negotiations with the Palestinians because they’ve accepted all along that, come what may, the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will remain in Israeli hands.
Amiram argues that, all rhetoric to the contrary, peace will only be possible if Jerusalem is divided to become the capitals of both Israel and Palestine. The Jewish neighborhoods aren’t really the sticking point like the Old City and probably Area E1 that links Ma’aleh Adumim – another Jewish neighborhood outside the Green Line that has become a town – with Jerusalem. Israel has threatened to build there, too.
At least in theory, the prospects for peace are still there, despite the expansion of existing Jewish neighborhoods. Whether these prospects will be realized is another matter. That’ll depend on Palestinian no less than on Israeli attitudes. Thus the threat that soon Mahmoud Abbas, the current President of the Palestinian Authority, may be replaced or succeeded by a leader of Hamas is probably a much greater threat to peace than the expansion of Jewish settlements.
Many Israelis, perhaps the majority, prefer the present situation to peace at the price of a divided Jerusalem and probably the evacuation of at least some Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Sadly many Palestinians collude, especially those who support Hamas and prefer to dream about “retaking” the whole of the country to peace that would only give them part of it while securing the future of the Jewish state. Collusion between enemies isn’t a new phenomenon.
All this may be one reason why, as the election campaign is heating up in Israel, the expansion of settlements doesn’t seem to be the most burning issue. Cynics say that the hope of many, ostensible opposition, parties to be part of the coalition next time inhibits them from saying things that would make that impossible. They prefer to focus on criticizing each other without being specific on much.
Parties that like to think of themselves as being on the left – though they’re really in the centre with intermittent excursions to the right and the left – prefer to attack Prime Minister Netanyahu, his party and his allies on social policy. They accuse the government of using external affairs as a way of not dealing with the alarming social gap within Israeli society. They probably also know that the majority of Jewish Israelis are more likely to support hawks on defense than doves on peace.
People abroad who follow events in Israel may be misled to believe that the real issue in the forthcoming elections is how to deal with the Palestinians. That’s not how it seems (at least to me) from here. There’re times when I’m left with the impression that both Israelis and Palestinians have reconciled themselves to the status quo with all the burdens and dangers this entails. It’s not a pretty picture, but it may be a true one.