Netanyahu: Jerusalem is not a settlement – Yasser Abed Rabbo: He is right

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu — unrepentant, it is said, after a very recent flap with Washington over measures to expand Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem — said in Washington today that “Jerusalem is not a settlement — Jerusalem is our capital”.

[Actually, Netanyahu was only repeating words spoken on Monday by Howard Kohr, executive director of AIPAC, the American-Israel Political Action Committee, whose convention Netanyahu was addressing today. This is what AP reported: ” ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement’, said AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr, pausing for a loud standing ovation from the crowd before Clinton spoke. ‘Jerusalem is the capital of
Israel’.” ]

A day earlier, veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz that “Even while fast-talking politicians transform Jerusalem into the city that never stops (building), the line ‘a unified Jerusalem, Israel’s heart for all eternity’, remains a surefire winner at any Jewish convention. It’s a safe bet that every time Benjamin
Netanyahu utters the magic word ‘Jerusalem’ Monday night at the annual AIPAC conference, the applause will make the place tremble”.

On the 9 pm Palestinian Television news, Yasser Abed Rabbo (Secretary of the P.L.O. Executive Committee + head of Palestinian Television), said tonight that Netanyahu “is right: Jerusalem is a city. And it is occupied”.

It was recently reported in the Israeli press that U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell has explained that Israel has “annexed” Jerusalem — but it was not reported that Mitchell said this was illegal, or that the international community regard this as “null and void”.

Actually, what Israel has done regarding Jerusalem is “de facto annexation“, a tour guide for the Ir-Amim organization explained a few years ago while leading an English-speaking tour of areas of East Jerusalem.

How was this done?

The Old City of East Jerusalem — where the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews, is located — was not part of Israel at its proclamation in 1948. Nor was the Old City of East Jerusalem part of Israel after the UN negotiated the 1949 Armistice lines (which are more or less the same as the “Green Line” that separated Israel from Jordanian forces until 4 June 1967.

(1) After Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the June 1967 war, it extended its administration and laws to East Jerusalem (which was basically 6 square kilometers including the Old City and close surrounding neighborhoods).
(2) A couple of weeks later, in 1967, Israel unilaterally re-drew the boundaries of “Jerusalem” to include the not only the Old City and its near neighborhoods in East Jerusalem — but also a large additional swathe of other West Bank territory in a crescent of areas surrounding East Jerusalem, from Qalandia (airport) and the Atarot industrial zone north of Jerusalem almost down to Bethlehem in the south, and then called all of this the “Greater Jerusalem municipality”, or “Jerusalem”. Thus, “Jerusalem” became nearly 70 square kilometers.
(3) Then, in 1980, Israel adopted a Basic Law declaring this expanded “Jerusalem” (including the Old City, East Jerusalem, and surrounding territory — or the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”) as its eternal and undivided capital. Both the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council have called this move “null and void”, but Israel has not backed down or blinked.

This is the “Jerusalem” that Netanyahu said the other day Israel will continue to build in, as it has for the past 42 years. This is the “Jerusalem” that Netanyahu said today is not a settlement, but is Israel’s “capital”.

He was not talking only about West Jerusalem, which became part of Israel at its proclamation in May 1948 — he also meant the areas of East Jerusalem (including the Old City) and other areas of the nearby West Bank that were joined together in 1967 to make the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”. It was not until 2008, during the Annapolis process of negotiations, that Israeli government officials first stated clearly and publicly that in their view the Jewish settlements (“neighborhoods”) in East Jerusalem are not on “occupied” land, nor, therefore — in their view — are they contrary to international humanitarian law.

Adding to the confusion is that the course of The Wall as it has been constructed in and around the “Jerusalem” area effectively unilaterally redefines, once again, what Israel means by “Greater Municipal Jerusalem” — cutting some Palestinian neighborhoods in two, and putting large numbers of East Jerusalem Palestinians on the West Bank side of The Wall in areas like Qafr Aqab and Semiramis (north of Qalandia checkpoint), ar-Ram, Dahiet al-Bariid, Atara, Ras Khamis, Dahiet as-Salam, and Shuafat Refugee Camp (all north of the Old City), as well as Abu Dis, Bethany, Jabel Mukaber and other areas to the south. So far, despite enormous nervousness, Palestinians with (East) Jerusalem IDs who live in these areas, on what is now the “other” side of The Wall, have not faced a loss of their IDs — and they still have to pay Jerusalem municipality taxes (“arnona”) — but they do have to cross Israeli military checkpoints to go to the bank, or to the post office, or to school, or to work …

Thus, without yet making any administrative changes, Israel has apparently changed what it means when it says “Jerusalem”. East Jerusalem residents affected by the placement of The Wall have scrambled, in recent years, to find more convenient housing on the Jerusalem side…

From the time of Bill Clinton’s intervention in the Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat and Ehud Olmert in July 2000, and six months later again in Taba in January 2001, a “principle” was introduced (though it harks back to the British Mandate era) that areas of dense Palestinian population would go to the Palestinian state, while areas of Jewish population would go to Israel. In the Annapolis negotiations, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert applied this “principle” to the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”, in a proposal he submitted in September 2008 to his Palestinian counterparts…

Palestinian officials in various negotiations over the years apparently reportedly given indications that they might be willing to “swap” close neighborhoods like French Hill (now predominantly Jewish, though built on Shuafat land) for Israeli concessions elsewhere.

But, what is going on, on the ground? Akiva Eldar wrote in his article in Haaretz yesterday that “On Sunday the prime minister, on the eve of his flight to speak to the pro-Israel lobby, said that ‘building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv’. Last week, President Shimon Peres opined that ‘only Israel’ can preserve freedom of worship at Jerusalem’s holy sites. It’s clear that these leaders have no clue what’s happening in Israel’s largest city. Forty-three years after Levi Eshkol’s government annexed East Jerusalem at the expense of its Palestinian residents, ‘an undivided Jerusalem’ is little more than an empty slogan. For 17 years, since the days of the Peres-Yitzhak Rabin administration, holy places in the Old City have been closed to Muslim and Christian believers from the occupied territories. The only East Jerusalem residents allowed to enter the Temple Mount compound are women and the elderly … Every Israeli government built on the hills in the eastern part of the city and dug beneath the Holy Basin’s historical sites. All discriminated against East Jerusalemites. And all displayed the same tactlessness, again and again, to the sensitivities of the various religions. It’s true that building in Jerusalem is no different from building in Tel Aviv – on condition that the issue is construction for Jews. Has the state put up even one neighborhood for Arabs in West Jerusalem? Does anyone know of an Arab contractor given permission to build a single apartment in a Jewish neighborhood in the eastern part of the city? On March 21, 1999, the first Netanyahu government announced that it would ‘strengthen Jerusalem as an undivided city through equality in services and infrastructure between the western and eastern parts of the city’. Eleven years on, East Jerusalem lacks more than 1,000 classrooms. It’s much cheaper to apply Israeli law to Arab lands than to apply the
Compulsory Education Law to Arab children. It’s easier to get the Knesset to pass the Basic Law on Jerusalem than to dedicate funds for paving sidewalks in the Arab villages Israel has converted into ‘Jerusalem neighborhoods’. It’s far simpler to utter sage words about an undivided city than to tear down walls of discrimination and isolation.” Akiva Eldar’s article can be read in full here.

Meron Benvenisti, who served as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem (under Teddy Kolleck) from 1971 to 1978, wrote in 2008 in Haaretz [“Moot Argument”] that: “A status quo is preserved as long as the forces wishing to preserve it are stronger than those wishing to undermine it, and that is the situation today in Israel/Palestine. After more than 40 years, the Israeli governing system known as ‘the occupation’, which ensures full control over every agent or process that jeopardizes the Jewish community’s total domination and the political and material advantage that it accumulates, has become steadily more sophisticated through trial and error – without planning, but in response to the genetic code of settler society. This status quo, which appears to be chaotic and unstable, is much sturdier than the conventional description of the situation as a temporary military occupation would indicate. The tensions and internecine confrontations that prevail in the area under Israeli control are so acute – and the power gap between the Jewish and the Arab communities so decisive – that there is no way to deal with these tensions except by means of military might. Usually the emphasis is on the political and civil inequality and the denial of collective rights that the model of division – or, alternatively, inclusion in a binational government – is supposed to solve. But the greater, and more dangerous, inequality is the economic kind that is characteristic of the current situation and will not be reversed by either alternative: the dramatic gap in gross domestic product per capita between Palestinians and Israelis, which is 1:10 in the West Bank and and 1:20 in the Gaza Strip, as well as the enormous inequality in the use of natural resources (land, water). This gap cannot exist without the force of arms provided so effectively by the defense establishment, and even most of those who oppose the occupation are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their welfare. This explosive status quo survives due to the combination of several factors: fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other; enlistment of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as protecting its very existence; funding of the status quo by the donor nations, which cause corruption among the Palestinian leadership; persuasion of the neighboring states to give priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity; success of the propaganda campaign known as negotiations with the Palestinians, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the final-status arrangement; the silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and psychological repugnance toward the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed. Its not nice to admit, and it is a sad forecast, but without accepting this conclusion and learning our lesson from it, change will not be possible”. This article can be found in Haaretz here.

On 29 January 2010, Benvenisti re-worked the theme in an updated article in Haaretz, entitled “United We Stand”. In it, he wrote: “The occupation in 1967 resulted from military action. But the military element quickly became secondary, while the ‘civilian’ component – the settlements – became the dominant factor, subjugating the military to its needs and turning the security forces into a militia in the service of the Jewish ethnic group. Sometime in the late 1980s, the settlements crossed the critical threshold beyond which
continued demographic and urban growth were assured. From that point on, the number of settlements, and even the size of their population, became immaterial because the apparatus of Israeli rule was perfected to such a degree that the distinction between Israel proper and the occupied territories was totally blurred.
Similarly, the takeover of land ceased to be chiefly for the purpose of settlement construction and became primarily a means of constricting the movement of the Palestinian populace and of appropriating their physical space. In the new paradigm, the settlements are no longer important as instruments of spatial
control. The separation barrier/wall and its gates, the ‘sterile roads’, and a myriad of military regulations have taken the settlements’ place as symbols of Zionism. Forty years after the first settlement was established, ‘the settlement’ – like the kibbutz and the moshav – has become just another exhibit in the museum of Zionist antiquities. The age of ideology is over. The attempt to mark the settlements – and the settlers – as the major impediment to peace is a convenient alibi, obfuscating the involvement of the entire Israeli body politic in maintaining and expanding the regime of coercion and discrimination in the occupied
territories, and benefiting from it. By the late 1980s, after two decades of occupation, Israeli control of the territories beyond the Green Line has become quasi- permanent, differentiated from sovereign rule only vis-a-vis the Palestinian residents. As far as Israeli citizens and their range of interests are concerned, the annexation of the territories is a fait accompli. Defining the territories as ‘occupied’ is in fact an attempt to depict ‘occupation’ as a temporary condition that will end ‘when peace comes’, and is designed to avoid resolving immediate dilemmas – ‘in the meantime. The term is a crutch for those who seek optimistic precedents, allowing them to believe that just as all occupations end, this one will, too. This linguistic choice thereby contributes to blurring and obfuscating the reality in the territories, thus abetting continuation of the status quo… ”

Benvenisti continued: “Since it is impossible to refrain from reacting to the Palestinian demand for self-
determination in the occupied territories, the Israelis seek to limit it to a mere quarter of them, those who live in the West Bank. For them they have invented a unique concept of a ‘state’: Its ‘sovereignty’ will be scattered, lacking any cohesive physical infrastructure, with no direct connection to the outside world, and limited to the height of its residential buildings and the depth of its graves. The airspace and the water resources will remain under Israeli control. Helicopter patrols, the airwaves, the hands on the water pumps and the electrical switches, the registration of residents and the issue of identity cards, as well as passes to enter and leave, will all be controlled (directly or indirectly) by the Israelis. This ridiculous caricature of a
Palestinian state, beheaded and with no feet, future, or any chance for development, is presented as fulfillment of the goal of symmetry and equality embodied in the old slogan, ‘two states for two peoples’. It is endorsed – even by supporters of Greater Israel – and the traditional peace camp rejoices in its triumph.
Large segments of the Israeli peace camp, who staunchly believe in ‘partition of the land’ as a metapolitical tenet, are gratified; they believe that they won the ideological, historical, debate with the right wing. Now they can load the entire Palestinian tragedy onto an entity that comprises less than 10 percent (areas A and B under the Oslo Accords) of the area of historic Palestine. Moreover, it is supposed to offer a solution to all refugees outside Palestine ‘who can return to the Palestinian mini-state’, and also provide a remedy for the Israeli-Palestinians who can achieve their collective rights in the Palestinian state. Indeed, a cheap and convenient solution; after all, it is seemingly based on the venerable model of the two-state solution. But how did it come to pass that Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, scions of the ‘nationalist camp’, became champions of the Palestinian nation-state? What brought those who believed that Palestinians are merely terrorist gangs, to declare that the conflict is national and therefore the solution is partition between ‘two nation-states’? This was caused by the Palestinians, who by launching the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 compelled the Israelis to realize that they are irrepressible and cannot be ignored or
deported. The intifada forced the Israelis, for the first time in their history, to delineate the geographic limits of their expansion, construct fences and roadblocks and abandon populated areas that might upset the demographic balance. The remaining areas, fragmented and non-viable, could be declared a Palestinian state. After almost half a century, the Israeli governing system known as ‘the occupation’ – which
ensures full control over every agent or process that jeopardizes the Jewish community’s total domination – has become steadily more sophisticated through random trial and error, dictated by the inner logic of a settler society. This status quo, which appears to be chaotic and unstable, is much sturdier than the
conventional description of the situation as ‘a temporary military occupation’ would indicate. Precisely because it is constitutionally murky and ill-defined, its ambiguity supports it. The volatile status quo survives due to the combination of several factors:
1. Fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other.
2. Mobilization of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as safeguarding its very existence.
3. Funding of the status quo by the ‘donor countries’.
4. The strategy of the neighboring states, which gives priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity. Internal considerations cause them to prefer the status quo of Israeli control – while paying lip service to Palestinian national aspirations – over an emasculated Palestinian state. As for Jordan, the establishment of a Palestinian state constitutes a threat to its very existence.
5. Success of the propaganda campaign known as ‘negotiations with the Palestinians’, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and that they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives for a ‘final-status arrangement’.
6. The silencing of all criticism by calling it an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism…
… However, without the sanction, or at least the indifference of external powers, the status quo would not endure. Massive financial contributions free Israel from the burden of coping with the enormous cost of maintaining control over the Palestinians and create a system of corruption and vested interests. The artificial existence of the PA in itself perpetuates the status quo because it supports the illusion that the situation is temporary and that the ‘peace process’ will soon end it … Even most of the Israelis who oppose the ‘occupation’ are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their personal welfare. All the economic, social and spatial systems of governance in the occupied territories are designed to maintain and safeguard Israeli privileges and prosperity on both sides of the Green Line, at the expense of millions of
captive, impoverished Palestinians”.

Benvenisti goes on to discuss the existing binational reality — maintained by overwhelming disparity of force, and economic power, in favor of the Jewish community (or communities).

He writes: “In the prevailing circumstances, does it matter whether a person supports ‘two states for two peoples’ or a federal state, power sharing in the context of a consociational democracy, cantonization, or other models? The nature of the constitutional framework is secondary; after all, the entire dilemma is not earth-shattering: it is a choice between horizontal (power sharing) and vertical (territorial) partition. But the bottom line is this: The coexistence of the two national communities is a destiny that cannot be avoided. All attempts (theoretical and empirical) to separate them have failed. This coexistence must be based upon communal equality and ethical principles, human dignity and freedom; otherwise it will not endure and will perpetuate violence. It is clear that without parity of esteem, mutual respect for the identity and equality of the two communities, there will be no reconciliation and neither of the two alternatives – partition and power sharing – can be implemented. In any case, productive discussion of this topic will be possible only when the people of this region have taken psychological ownership of the binational condition that has been thrust upon them and have begun to strive together to pave a road to reconciliation”. This recent article by Benvenisti can be read in full here.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Netanyahu met with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of congress, and said that “Israel would not allow itself to be trapped by Palestinians into unfair demands, particularly with regard to construction in East Jerusalem. ‘We must not be trapped by an illogical and unreasonable demand…” This was reported in Haaretz here. By “illogical and unreasonable demand”, Netanyahu apparently means the demand to stop building and expanding Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

Yesterday, after a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels, the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn said that “The EU is ‘very disappointed by the position of the Israeli government, I think I can say very clearly that Jerusalem is not Tel Aviv’.” According to Haaretz, Asselborn added that “Jerusalem should function as the capital of both the Israeli and a future Palestinian state”. This is reported here.

YNet published an AP report about that meeting, saying that “The European Union on Monday condemned Israel’s intent to continue building in east Jerusalem, saying it represents an obstacle to international peace efforts. But former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now a special Mideast representative [and who briefed the EU ministers on the Quartet meeting in Moscow a few days ago], expressed confidence that despite the latest setbacks both the Israelis and Palestinians wanted the peace process to continue. ‘The European Union has condemned all the settlement activities’, said Spanish Foreign Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose nation holds the EU’s rotating presidency. ‘We ask for a total freeze of settlement activity. We will pursue this policy’. EU foreign ministers met in Brussels a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will not restrict construction in east Jerusalem. The halt to settlement construction is a key demand by the Quartet of Mideast negotiators who are trying to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has agreed to curb settlement construction in the West Bank, but not in east Jerusalem, claiming the entire city as Israel’s eternal capital. ‘The Netanyahu announcement is completely, utterly unacceptable’, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said … Visiting Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who arrived in Brussels on Friday, was due to meet individually with the foreign ministers of Finland, Germany, Lithuania and Malta, but not with the entire 27-member body. Lieberman was supposed to attend a joint EU-Israel committee meeting Monday, but this was postponed until next month … The EU has denied that the postponement is meant as a snub to Lieberman. But relations between the bloc and the Jewish state have taken a turn for the worse in recent months”. This report is published here.