Is Israeli housing endangering the peace process?

Once again Israel is being blamed in advance for the inevitable failure of another round of Middle East diplomacy. It is incumbent on all of us concerned with Israel’s image in the world that we not leave such accusations unchallenged. The latest criticism comes from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Speaking at a press conference hosted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on June 15th, Rice maintained that: “Israel’s persistent building of Jewish homes on disputed land undermines the U.S.-backed attempt to write an Israeli-Palestinian peace draft this year and invites questions about Israel’s motives, Israel must understand the pall its actions cast over talks and on the confidence of the United States, European nations and others that Israel is bargaining in good faith.”

We have heard similar criticism of Israel so often over the last 30 years that it has become the background noise of Middle East diplomacy. Nevertheless, we ignore such statements at our own risk. In essence, statements like Rice’s seek to lay the blame, in advance, for the inevitable failure of the latest round of the peace process on irrelevant Israeli actions and not on the plan’s inherent conceptual flaws. . Although demonstrably false, the constant repetition of such accusations has and will have serious long term consequences for Israel’s international reputation and diplomatic room for maneuver.

To accept Condoleezza Rice’s statement that Israel is negotiating in bad faith, one must accept not only the false dichotomy of land for peace but also that Israel must unavoidably hand over any and all land her enemies covet; including Jerusalem (the location of the building permits to which Rice refers). In other words, we must believe that Israel does not really want peace because she permits the building of badly needed homes in her capitol city. We must further suspend reason and believe that even if Israel were to give part of Jerusalem over to some other sovereignty, Jews should not be permitted to live in certain neighborhoods of their holy city. Is this the supposed “peace” we are striving for?

Rice went on to say that she believes “that the actions and the announcements that are taking place are indeed having a negative effect on the atmosphere for the negotiation.” Are we really to believe that Israeli housing is the primary reason for the negative atmosphere in the area? Might not the Palestinian’s election of Hamas, labeled by Rice’s own State Department as a terrorist organization, with their open rejection of all previously signed peace agreements and daily violations of them have more to do with the hostile atmosphere? Are not six years of Palestinian missile attacks on Israeli towns an impediment to peace negotiations? Thousands of missiles reigned down on the citizens of Galilee by Hezbollah in direct contradiction of the Geneva Convention are not more detrimental to an atmosphere of peace? The unprovoked kidnapping and continued captivity of Israelis by both Hamas and Hezbollah violate no tenant of diplomacy?

East Jerusalem, which includes the ancient Jewish Quarter in which Jews have lived for millennia and the holiest sights in Judaism, was annexed by the Knesset soon after the Six-Day War and has been sovereign Israeli territory ever since. The position of every Israeli government has remained consistent: Jews have the right to live anywhere they wish to in Israel’s capitol city. To legislate otherwise would be a violation not only of Jewish sensibilities but of basic human rights. Regardless of our satisfaction with Olmert’s government, it deserves credit for standing firm on this issue.

It is of no consequence whether Rice sincerely believes her statement or made it merely to appease her Palestinian hosts. Jewish history teaches us that we ignore libel at our peril. There are too many governments around the world that will no doubt seize on Rice’s criticism as justification for their continued vilification of Israel. Jerusalem and Zion is sacred not only to Israelis but to Jews everywhere and we ought not to remain silent in their defense.

Original published version.

Image via Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

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