Lessons from Har Homa – I and II

Israeli settlement activities were discussed — but certainly not resolved — at a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams on Monday.   Now, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to hold a “summit” meeting on Thursday on the subject, which the Palestinians have indicated must be resolved for any further progress to be made.

The announcement that approval has been given for 307 – then 500 – additional homes in Har Homa, which is on a formerly-wooded hilltop between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, is only part of the picture.

There has also been discussion in the press of additional building in Maale Adumim — which an Ir Amim study-tour guide said recently has jurisdiction over a larger physical area than Tel Aviv — and in Atarot,  where a now-disused airport for Jerusalem sits, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, where Jewish housing is growing rapidly in several areas.

In 1997, Israel announced plans to build 6500 homes in Har Homa.  [N.B., so far, only about 2,500 housing units have been built — and many of them appear to be empty.]   The UN Security Council met for weeks, the U.S. vetoed a draft resolution, and the UN General Assembly met in a “uniting for peace” process.

Akiva Eldar wrote recently that “In the Palestinian Authority (and the Israeli peace camp) this plan was seen as another step in a scheme to cut off their capital from the West Bank. Yasser Arafat threatened to declare the establishment of an independent state and the Palestinian Legislative Council announced a general strike in the territories. That crisis was the focus of Arafat’s visit to the White House the following month. Clinton asked the Palestinian leader to be sensitive to Netanyahu’s ‘coalition pressures’. Arafat explained that he, too, had troubles at home and begged the president to at least demand that Israel delay the implementation of the decision to establish the neighborhood … On the other side were the settlers and the activists from the right. They were flanked by then-mayor [of Jerusalem] Olmert, who a short while earlier had pushed Netanyahu into the Western Wall tunnel – an adventure that ended with the death of 16 Israeli soldiers and dozens of Palestinians. Olmert declared that Har Homa was ‘the most substantive test of the government’s ability to withstand pressure and demonstrate leadership’ … The response today of spokesmen for the Olmert government gives rise to the fear that the Annapolis conference did not change the situation on the Israeli side. They claim that ‘the neighborhood is within the area of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, over which Israeli law is binding, and therefore there is no prohibition to building there, just as there is no obstacle to building in any other part of Israel’. We have already forgotten that the prime minister agreed that everything would be open to negotiation, including Jerusalem. Is this the way to build a wall to fortify the status of PA President Mahmoud Abbas? And what will ‘the world’ do – all those people who were in attendance at Annapolis – if Olmert decides to hide behind ‘pressures from the coalition’ and approves the new construction?”    Akiva Eldar’s analysis in Haaretz is here.

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