By Sarah Kreimer, Ir Amim Associate Director
The arrogant announcement of the approval by Israeli Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, on the eve of U.S.Vice President Biden's visit to Jerusalem not only embarrassed one of Israel's best friends, but also delivered a strong message of ill intent. If anyone wondered whether the Israeli government was ready to conduct honest negotiations over the tough issues of the Palestinian - Israeli conflict, Eli Yishai's announcement clarified the situation with a resounding NO.
That message led the Arab League to retract the backing they had given to the struggling Palestinian Authority to enter the "proximity talks" cobbled together by Senator George Mitchell. More important, Arab countries - who are key partners with the U.S. in Middle East diplomatic initiatives - saw that President Obama was unable to gain the cooperation of the Israeli government in even the most basic and simple diplomatic moves. That does not bode well for U.S. coordination with Arab countries in much more nuanced, high-stakes moves vis a vis Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.
Jerusalem is not a final status issue. Jerusalem is a living city, in which Israeli policy, as well as Palestinian and Israeli extremists, are creating a reality that will render a final status resolution impossible; and will harm U.S. and Israeli interests in the Middle East.
As I am writing this, East Jerusalem is exploding in a "Day of Popular Uprising" declared by Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as by the northern Islamic Movement in Israel. Although its expression is orchestrated, the rage is genuine and deep.
Over the last year, Jerusalem's mayor has bent over backward not to implement an Israeli High Court decision to evacuate Israeli settlers from an illegally built home in Silwan; and instead is advancing a plan to demolish scores of Palestinian homes in the Bustan valley below - in order to create an Israeli Park to trace the footsteps of ancient Jewish Kings. Over the last year 53 Palestinians were evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah; and replaced by settlers escorted in by Israeli police. Approval has been given to Israeli settlers to build 55 more housing units in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods surrounding the Old City; while throughout East Jerusalem 65 Palestinian homes and buildings were demolished. While two thirds of Jerusalem's Palestinian families live below the poverty line, the municipality decided this year not to open a promised new well-baby clinic in the crowded neighborhood of Silwan.
These actions - of systemic neglect, de-development and dispossession in Jerusalem - speak louder than words. With no genuine political process on the horizon, despite the declarations of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jerusalem is like a pressure cooker whose pressure valve has been sealed. In turning up the heat in Jerusalem, Israeli authorities are acting against the best interests of Israelis and Palestinians; and are scuttling the potential for the U.S. to work with key Arab countries to further common interests in the Middle East. Apparently, we need the help of the international community to curb these dangerous actions - before we descend into a Third Intifada, and drag a good part of the Middle East with us.