By Larry Gordon
We have asked the question again and again in this space. Why is it so important that people be allowed to live freely wherever they are in the world, but in Israel—the ancient land of the Jewish people—it is acceptable to almost everyone that Jews face restrictions on where they can and cannot live?
It is unconscionable that this continues as the policy of the current U.S. administration, enunciated by the State Department on Monday. Spokesperson Jan Psaki once again excoriated Israel for planning on building homes for Jews in Jerusalem.
The State Department comment was that the plan to build more homes in Jerusalem for Jews moves the prospects of peace further away. It looks like Prime Minister Netanyahu has had enough of the fence-dawdling and finally clearly stated what had to be said. And that is that criticism of Jewish building in Jerusalem is what sets back the possibilities for peace more than the actual building.
Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States have been dancing around this issue for at least 35 years, probably going back as far as the conclusion of the Six Day War a half-century ago. The conventional wisdom has always been to leave any discussion of how to deal with Jerusalem until the end of any peace process. That is because, as you have seen this week, it is not only an intractable matter, but is unsolvable under current conditions.
So it turns out that there might be a sensible, as well as providential, plan that says that if there is ever going to be peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, then maybe we should decide that the first issue on the table—and not the last—should be the status of Jerusalem. The way it looks right now from here is that if some kind of formula can be arrived at on the matter of Jerusalem, then all other matters will fall into line and be successfully and expeditiously concluded.
This process cannot even begin unless at first some honesty is injected into the process. And the first step in that direction is coming to grips with the reality that Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel and, indeed, the capital of all Jews everywhere, regardless of where they live.
We have been dancing around this issue for decades with some success; however, it seems that the proclivity for procrastination is about to run its course. And a big part of the problem as it exists today is that over the period of all these years, Israelis somehow thought the smoke-and-mirrors approach to Jerusalem’s future was the best one to take.
Well, that may have been true for a while, but it has become apparent this week that this formulation is no longer workable. Taking a step back and viewing the matter from the perspective of history, it is inconceivable that those in touch with reality can in good conscience proclaim that Jerusalem is an Arab city rightfully belonging to some kind of Arab entity that will someday come into being as a result of a process of negotiations that will settle the conflict.
These leaders who criticize Jewish building in the ancient Jewish city of Jerusalem know that they are party to a colossal international fraud, but that simply does not serve as an obstacle to continue to pursue this avenue. This week, at an appearance here in the Five Towns to endorse a local candidate for State Assembly, I had a chance to briefly discuss this issue with New York’s Senior Senator, Chuck Schumer.
I asked Mr. Schumer if he anticipated the president—with whom he is very close—taking the gloves off after the election and pressing Israel hard to make concessions to the Palestinians so that he can finally tout a foreign policy achievement or at least a pseudo-success amongst a plethora of failed policies as he enters the lame-duck phase of his tenure.
Senator Schumer said that he has communicated to the president more than a few times that the reason there is no peace between Israel and the Palestinians is because Israel has no partner for peace. I also asked him whether he or the president is still convinced that the only solution to these problems is the continued pursuit of the fantasy that is the so-called two-state solution.
Schumer said that he believes, and he has related this to the president, too, that the issue here is that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mohammad Abbas is looking for a one-state solution—which is a nicer way of saying that they seek the elimination of Israel as we know it.
So there is good news and bad news in all this. The good news is that Israel will eventually have to go out on its own without U.S. approval and declare definitively that Jerusalem will forever remain united under Israeli sovereignty and that Jews can live anywhere they wish in the city. That fact can be reiterated and anything less is discriminatory and un-American.
The bad news is that this truth as we know it runs contrary to U.S. policy. And that is mystifying. It is historically unfounded that there is a historical attachment of Jerusalem to anything Arab. It has been demonstrated archeologically and through tradition—biblical and otherwise—that there is a lock on the claim of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Writing these words even feels odd, as if we have to repeatedly rhetorically contort ourselves in order to assert our historical connection to the land of Israel.
Senator Schumer said that he has expressed similar sentiments to the president more than a few times. I suppose the senator is just one more person on a long list that Mr. Obama pays little or no attention to.
So fractured is the relationship—on the surface anyway—that now in the aftermath of Israel announcing plans to build 1,000 new homes in Jerusalem, the State Department has resorted to name-calling, using a demeaning pejorative to characterize Mr. Netanyahu as something that can be understood to be less-than-courageous when it comes to both war and peace.
I seriously doubt that the name-calling will be the agent of a peace breakthrough. It is clear to senior U.S. government officials like Chuck Schumer that the lack of progress in peace talks with the Palestinians is not about homes and playgrounds for Jews. It is more about the Arab side’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimate existence of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
Now, on the surface, it seems that the Palestinian side feels that they have found an ally in those sentiments in Mr. Obama. Granted, it might look like that on the surface, but despite the name-calling and the diplomatic snubs here and there, the U.S.-Israel relationship endures. It might look a little shaky now and then, and you may disagree, but I sense that a great deal of this is playacting.
Perhaps these issues tend to come to a fore around the time that we read in the Torah—the world’s indisputable historical record—of the legal purchase of real estate in Hebron by the first Jew, Avraham, in the portion of Chayei Sarah. We may conjure up some more contemporary images as we recite three times daily the blessing, “Blessed Are You, Hashem, the Builder of Jerusalem.”
Except for political reasons, it is not understood why announcements need to be made every time Israel decides to take steps to provide for its expanding population. No other country in the world feels the need to conduct itself in that fashion. So forget the critics and the people who feel they need to issue authorization slips to Jews to build housing. The famous sneaker commercial says it best—Just do it.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Larry Gordon