Crisis In Jerusalem
Crisis In Jerusalem
Commentary by Sarah Ann Haves
Clashes with police on the streets of Jerusalem by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs could spark a third intifada in Israel. The latest fighting began after Israel announced the finished renovations of the historic Hurva synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. At the same time, a right-wing group called the Temple Mount Faithful sought permission to go up on the Temple Mount to lay a corner stone, indicating a symbolic gesture towards the re-building of the Temple. Police refused to allow any Jew on the Mount, but false rumors spread that Moslem holy sites were being threatened by a supposed Jewish takeover.
The increased tension in Israel’s Old City follows a recent announcement by the Ministry of Interior that 1,600 housing units have been approved for a northeast neighborhood of Jerusalem. The announcement, which was declared during American Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit, was ill-timed, and has resulted in intense friction between America and Israel.
The U.S., once an ardent supporter of the Jewish State, has now entered the fray of other nations in rebuking Israel by condemning the housing and settlement policies of the Netanyahu government. America has been unrelenting in its demands of Jerusalem officials since the housing announcement was made. No apology by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been acceptable to U.S. officials. The Obama Administration is now expecting Israel to freeze all building in Jerusalem, and to offer the Palestinians more concessions, before peace talks get under way. So far, Netanyahu has refused.
The talks, which are supposed to start off as “indirect”, were finally agreed to after a stand-off between Israel and the Palestinians that lasted more than a year. Due to the present crisis, these proximity talks may be delayed, highlighting the continued failure of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East.
One of the purposes of Biden’s visit to Israel was to garner more public support from Israelis who have had difficulty trusting U.S. President Barack Obama’s true intentions. The American public relations campaign got off to a good start, but failed miserably when the U.S. took issue with Netanyahu over the housing announcement.
While Biden was in Jerusalem, he warmly greeted Israeli officials, and spoke of the great partnership between the two allies. He reaffirmed America’s commitment to protecting the security interests of Israel. He said that America stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, in an “ironclad commitment”, especially in the face of enemy threats. And, he expressed his pleasure that Israel and the Palestinians would soon get the peace process back on track.
Then, came the ill-timed housing announcement that turned the American public relations campaign into an Israeli public relations disaster.
It now seems that the strategic U.S.-Israel alliance has hit a low point. Attempts will be made to patch this up before Netanyahu travels to Washington, D.C. for the AIPAC policy conference, speaking right after U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton, to an audience of ardent Israel supporters.
Israel enters this new diplomatic season in U.S.-Israel relations shocked that its main ally in the world has turned so quickly and so publicly against its vital interests. This has not only caused a shake-up in the strategic partnership, but has put Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an awkward position, politically. He will, most likely, choose to weather this storm, hoping that new U.S. and Palestinian expectations will go away, and he will not have to give in to more Israeli concessions before the peace process indirect talks begin.
If Netanyahu has to choose between keeping his strong right-center government coalition in place, or caving into the demands of American policymakers, including Obama, himself, Netanyahu may use this opportunity to show his strength and courage to the Israeli electorate. If he looks to unite the Israeli people and stand firm in what he believes — that is, that Jerusalem will remain the undivided eternal capital of Israel, and nothing about it is negotiable — then he will be remembered as a great leader of his nation. Respect for Netanyahu among his own people, and, respect for him among international leaders will be gained if he is seen as a man that firmly stands on his principles – principles that a majority of Israelis now agree with. Many in Israel are hoping he remains true to his convictions in the face of unyielding U.S. pressure.
In the meantime, Israel continues to receive the rebuke of the international community about its current plans to build in east Jerusalem. On March 12, the Quartet (U.S., UN, EU, and Russia) issued a statement condemning such actions. It said it would closely monitor developments in Jerusalem and keep, under consideration, additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground. This announcement comes before the Quartet meets in Moscow on March 19.
One of Israel’s concerns is that Russia wants a more influential role in the peace process and may now try to garner support for hosting an international peace conference. Middle East analysts believe the purpose of such a gathering would be to push Israel into making dangerous concessions to the Palestinians in order to get negotiations moving forward towards a final peace deal.
Israel is also concerned that the Palestinians will now push for more condemnation of Israel at the United Nations, and will eventually try to impose UN sanctions on Israel; especially if the Netanyahu government continues its current West Bank settlement plans, as well as efforts to continue building in Jerusalem.
Israeli politicians usually like to dismiss as “superfluous” any disagreements with the U.S. Administration, saying such things are common practice between allies, and should not be taken seriously. But, this recent spat is considered by some diplomats as a deep schism in the U.S.-Israel relationship.
What is at stake here, and is receiving little media attention, is just how much of this partnership rests on Obama’s success in the Middle East. He intends for the U.S. to remain as the main peace broker between Israel and the Palestinians. He’s desperately looking for some progress on this front in order to be able to move ahead with his own plans.
According to Biden, in late March, Obama will be traveling to Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Moslem population where he lived as a boy. Perhaps, Obama hopes to bring Indonesia into the circle of Moslem nations he is courting. To do so, he may want to prove that he is not only the most prominent and powerful leader of the free world, but also the most likely western leader to unite the Arab world in the cause of stopping Iran from “going nuclear”.
The Obama doctrine on foreign policy was clearly stated in Biden’s Tel Aviv University speech when he said: “We are determined to keep the pressure on Iran so that it will change its course. And, as we do, we will also be seeking to improve relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They are connected indirectly, but there is a relationship. We call on Arab states, who share a mutual concern about Iran – we call on Arab states to support the effort to bring peace between Palestinians and the Israelis, and to take their own steps forward for peace with Israel.”
The U.S. agenda is to get the Arabs on-board, in a U.S. led coalition against Iran, but Arab states will only do so once they see progress between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has become the catalyst for this linkage to work successfully. Perhaps, American officials also fear that time is running out, and they will not be able to put a U.S. led coalition together before Israeli officials feel they must take military action against Iran.
Biden also said in his speech that “incitement against Israel continues as do attacks on the legitimacy of Jewish ties to this ancient land.” But, contrary to his words, it is now the United States that is verbally attacking Israel for its ties to the ancient city of Jerusalem, and the biblical heartland of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
The reason for this apparent lack of concern about Israel’s ancient homeland can be assessed by these comments in Biden’s Tel Aviv speech: “And, there is now an Arab Peace Initiative that makes an important contribution by envisioning a future in which Israel is secure and at peace with its Arab neighbors.”
Israel has already explained to American officials that the Arab Peace Initiative is unacceptable. The plan gives no wiggle room in negotiations, insisting Israel withdraw to pre-1967 borders, divide Jerusalem, and find a solution to allowing Palestinian so-called “refugees” to return to Israel, rather than to their own Palestinian state. Israel’s biggest concern, however, is that the Arab Peace Initiative leaves no room for Israel to retain defensible borders. This is exactly what the Arab nations and the Palestinians want…. a weakened Israel that militarily cannot defend itself — in exchange for a peace agreement.
So, what are America’s diplomatic interests that are currently the most important factor in Obama’s game plan? In speaking of Iranian leaders, and the U.S. attempt to engage them in meaningful dialogue towards stopping their military nuclear program, Biden explained: “If they fail to respond, we would be in a much stronger position to rally the international community to impose consequences for their actions.”
Obama is looking for a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab world. He is hoping to emerge as the global leader who can accomplish this goal, even after many American presidents have failed to do so. He wants to unite Arab nations and European states against Iran, and he believes his plans must be implemented quickly.
But, in building his diplomatic agenda, Obama has failed to understand that the piece of land being fought over by Israel, the Palestinians, and Islamic states, is a fight that cannot be settled by successful foreign policy planning. It is an ancient conflict, that has deep historic and biblical roots, and the outcome belongs to the decision of no man, but God Himself.
Biden spoke of Israel’s unique relationship with the United States, declaring: “Our nations’ unbreakable bond, born of common values, interwoven cultures, and mutual interests has spanned the entirety of Israel’s history. And, it’s impervious to any shifts in either country; and, either country’s partisan politics. No matter what challenges we face, this bond will endure.”
Let’s hope that American officials listen to the words they dictated Biden to share with Israelis at Tel Aviv University. Israel is becoming too heavy a burden for America to carry on its own, and the “enduring” bond already seems to be breaking under intense pressure.
“On that day, I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone, a burden for the world. None of the nations who try to lift it will escape unscathed.” Zechariah 12:3 (New Living Translation)
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.