US micro-management challenges Israeli sovereignty

Shepherd Hotel, East Jerusalem

The Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem, at the center of the controversy

Last week the Israeli press reported that Ambassador to the US Michael Oren had been called in and told that Israel must not continue with plans to convert a Jewish-owned building in East Jerusalem into a 20-unit apartment complex — talk about micro-management!

Today the US has confirmed the report:

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed Monday that a new housing development in east Jerusalem had been a topic of conversation last week during a meeting between senior US diplomats and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Crowley said US opposition to construction in east Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank had not changed.

“We have made our views known to Israel,” he told reporters. “Our views are not new either: that this kind of construction is the type … of issue that should be subject to permanent-status negotiations.”

Crowley added that “we are concerned that unilateral actions taken by the Israelis or the Palestinians cannot prejudge the outcome of these negotiations.”

On Sunday, responding to the reports that Washington had asked Israel not to build 20 apartments in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, near Mount Scopus and the National Police headquarters, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s declared that Israel would not bar Jews from buying apartments in east Jerusalem.– Jerusalem Post

Apparently the Obama Administration has decided — whether the decision was initiated by the White House or the State Department — to draw its line in the sand with Israel here, in Jerusalem.

Any construction activity by Jews in areas occupied by Jordan in 1948-67, including East Jerusalem, is considered ‘settlement activity’ by the US, and is streng verboten.

Of course our peace partners in the Palestinian Authority (PA) gleefully jumped on the bandwagon and are refusing to talk about anything until all ‘settlement activity’ stops.

Some background on the even more outrageous US position that Israel does not have sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem can be found in my post “US to Israel: No part of Jerusalem belongs to you“.

Regardless of the supposed justification for this point of view, I am here to tell Mr. Obama and his Arabist State Department types that — unless the goal is to provoke a complete break with Israel — this is a stupid policy.

Israel is not going to give in on this one. There is no issue that is more likely to unite Israelis against the US than an attempt to limit sovereignty in Jerusalem. This is not going to split PM Netanyahu from the right wing, it is going to push them closer together.

In response to the demands Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, “Our sovereignty in Jerusalem is indisputable. We can’t agree to such a demand in east Jerusalem.”

“I wish to make this clear – the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in the State of Israel,” he added…

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also commented on the demand, calling it “unthinkable”.

“There are many Arab families that build homes in the Neve Yaakov and French Hill neighborhoods. I have never heard any remarks on this matter, neither from the United States, nor from Europe,” he said.

“This is not an isolated distant Palestinian neighborhood. Should we of all people discriminate against Jews? This is unthinkable,” he added. — YNet

The irony here is as great as that of the Allies keeping Jewish former concentration camp inmates in “DP camps” in Germany after WWII. Jerusalem is the historical center of the Jewish world, and Jews lived in both East and West Jerusalem from biblical times until East Jerusalem was brutally ethnically cleansed by the Jordanians in 1948.

Israel gained control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1980, declaring the “complete and united Jerusalem” to be the capital of Israel.

So which is it?

Did the Obama administration miscalculate, thinking it could score some easy points with the Arabs by forcing Israel to heel?

Or is the intention to score even more points by tearing a great rift between the US and Israel and explicitly moving closer to the Arab side?

Update [21 Jul 2009 0826 PDT]:

The following commentary is from  Daniel Pipes’ blog. The whole article is worth reading:

Abbas complained to the Americans that the construction of 20 apartments and an underground garage in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik, 1.4 kilometers north of the Old City, would shift Jerusalem’s demographic balance. The State Department promptly summoned Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren on July 17 and instructed him to halt the building project.

Some background: Zionists founded the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood in 1891 by purchasing the land from Arabs, then, due to Arab riots and Jordanian conquest, abandoned the area. Amin al-Husseini, Jerusalem’s pro-Nazi mufti, put up a building in the 1930s that later served as the Shepherd Hotel (not to be confused with the renowned Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo). After 1967, the Israelis designated the land “absentee property.” Irving Moskowitz, an American businessman, bought the land in 1985 and rented the building to the border police until 2002. His company, C and M Properties, won final permission two weeks ago to renovate the hotel and build apartments on the land.

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3 Responses to “US micro-management challenges Israeli sovereignty”

  1. pavelaw says:

    Obama was planning on toppling the Netanyahu government, and Abbas was sitting gleefully, rubbing his palms together and announcing that he would just wait for Netanyahu’s successor before doing anything.

    Bad planning by both! Netanyahu, in a brilliant reply to Obama, got 80% approval across Israeli politics. Netanyahu has never been more popular, nor his administration more well-liked. Even Olmert chimed-in about his understanding with Bush W. about settlements. When it comes to Jerusalem, we all agree that it belongs to us and it’s not up for negotiations.

    My message to Obama: Get over it, Sport! You’re out of your league. Get the hell off our backs! Go do something nice for the American people and leave us alone. Our worst day without you beats our best day with you, so just Butt Out! Now!


  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    There is another version of this story i.e. that it is the Israeli government that went public on this one because it understood that it could draw the line with it beyond which American government interference must stop. I do not know which is true.
    I do know the whole focus on the ‘settlements issue’ has enabled the Americans to further convince the Arab world that they need to do nothing whatsoever , that they simply should wait and watch as the U.S. shrinks and humiliates Israel.
    Thus the truth is that if the Administration’s goal was favorable P.R. in the Islamic world they have gained points. However if it was any real movement on a ‘peace- process’ they have achieved the opposite of what they would like.
    The one- sided bashing of one’s friend is too no special sign of distinction.

  3. Vic Rosenthal says:

    Certainly the Israel government started leaking it first.
    Barry Rubin also said that they really shot themselves in the foot if they wanted negotiations. Now they have a deadlock.
    More and more I think that the primary goal of the US is getting Israel back to pre-67 borders, because this is what the Arabs (mostly Saudis) have demanded.
    A peaceful two-state solution might or might not be a byproduct (I think not), but it’s not the object of their policy.
    This puts the US squarely on the Arab side. Big surprise, looking at Obama’s choice of advisors.