Har Homa, again a flashpoint

Suppose all you had to go on was Reuters news:

Palestinians warn settlement plan will cloud talks

PARIS (Reuters) – Israel’s plan to build houses on occupied land near Jerusalem will cloud renewed peace talks, the Palestinian Authority said on Sunday, the day before an international aid conference opens in Paris…

“The Paris meeting tomorrow is an important step forward. We hope the Israelis will not put any obstacles in front of the understandings of Annapolis,” Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told reporters on Sunday…

“We need a clear cut Israeli decision concerning this (settlement) issue, which is very sensitive and important to the Palestinians. This issue is going to reflect itself, whether positively or negatively, in the coming negotiations,” he said. [my emphasis]

The place in question is a Jewish neighborhood called Har Homa, which is on the southeastern part of Jerusalem, between it and the Palestinian controlled town of Bethlehem. The area is within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, on land that was captured from the Jordanians in 1967 (pre-1948, most of the land was owned by Jews). The area was taken from Jewish and Arab owners by the municipality in 1991; the owners were compensated and no residents, Jewish or Arab, were displaced. The neighborhood was built in 1997.

Har Homa

Har Homa

Presently it has 6000 residents. The so-called “settlement plan” is to build housing for an additional 300 residents within the existing neighborhood.

In addition to the Palestinians, both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (‘illegal’) and Condoleezza Rice (‘unhelpful’) have criticized the Israeli action.

But even if you think that Israel will ultimately turn over some areas within Jerusalem’s boundaries to Palestinian control, the Palestinian argument that all the territory held by Jordan in 1948-1967 belongs to them — regardless of whether it is populated by Jews or Arabs — is not supportable.

Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is no more illegal than Jordan’s conquest of it in 1948. And keep in mind that Israel allowed all faiths access to thir holy sites, while Jordan expelled or murdered the Jews that lived in East Jerusalem, turned synagogues into stables, and for 19 years refused Jewish access to the holy places.

Given that an agreement with the Palestinians that will include an end to terrorism is highly unlikely in the near future, Israel’s action to strengthen Jewish neighborhoods in strategic areas — Har Homa serves as a buffer between Bethlehem and its suburbs and Jerusalem — is quite reasonable. Reuters’ description of this as a “settlement plan” is misleading at best.

And Condoleezza Rice’s support of Palestinian objections to Israel building homes inside a Jewish neighborhood within the boundaries of Israel’s capital is not what one expects of an ally (it is of course precisely what we expect from the UN). But then the US is not behaving like much of an ally lately.

Nevertheless, as Lenny Ben-David (‘The strategic significance of Har Homa’) points out, the remarks of Moon and Rice are likely to be taken by the Palestinians as tacit approval for a campaign of terrorism against Har Homa, and we can expect to see this soon.

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