Harsh condemnations of Israel for building in areas of Jerusalem acquired after the Six Day War in 1967 have backfired. If President Obama thought that he would move negotiations ahead and force Israel to make more concessions, he caused the exact opposite situation. Israelis have united in support of Prime Minister Netanyahu, while Arab Palestinian leaders have, on cue, stepped back.
Equating the issue of where and when Jewish communities can be built within the land of Israel with the issue of “settlements” was a mistake — it gave Israel an easy position to defend, especially domestically. Opposing the right of Jews to live in all parts of Jerusalem is not a change in the American position; Obama has made U.S. policy on Jerusalem consistent with that in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and the Golan Heights. In so doing, however, he has rallied Israelis, Jews, and Zionists around the world.
The premise of Obama’s demand that Israel stop all construction in all areas conquered by Israel in 1967 is logical: if Israel has violated international law by “illegally occupying Palestinian land,” then there are no differences between one area and another. But PM Netanyahu distinguishes between Jerusalem and the rest of Judea and Samaria, hinting that he’s open to more withdrawals.
In the short run, Netanyahu may think he can save Jerusalem by giving up all or part of Judea and Samaria; in the long run, however, it spells disaster. The same deal which previous governments offered — under Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert — were overwhelmingly rejected by Israeli voters and Arab leaders and are proven catastrophes. Giving territory to a terror-based Palestinian entity which refuses even to acknowledge Jewish historical claims and admit that Israel has a right to exist is senseless.
Jewish reverence for Jerusalem is a special case because the city is the spiritual center of the Jewish people, but Jews have no less affection for, and identify with, hundreds of historic places throughout Judea and Samaria. The land of Israel isn’t some historic amusement park of sentimentality, or a romantic Hollywood of memories. It is at the core of Jewish consciousness.
But implying that Jerusalem is more worthy than other areas of Eretz Yisrael denies Zionism, Judaism, and Jewish history. It’s also a strategic trap. Sacrificing some communities in order to save others, amputating hilltops and settlements to assuage Arabs and the international community, only encourages more radical demands and undermines Israel’s raison d’etre. The struggle over settlements isn’t about an “agenda for peace,” but Israel’s destiny and security.
Obama has set the rules of the game: if settlements are wrong because they are built on conquered land, then Jerusalem does not belong to Jews. And by those criteria, nothing does.