Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Barack Obama vs. Jerusalem Day


by Jonathan Tobin

This was no ordinary Jerusalem Day celebrated in Israel today. This date on the Jewish calendar notes the anniversary of the unification of the city in 1967, when Israeli troops routed the Jordanian occupiers of the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the town, and of the Old City. In June 1967, the barriers that had divided Jerusalem since the 1949 armistice were torn down, and the Jewish people were reunited with their holiest places, from which they had been barred during that period. But while today's ceremonies, displays, and parties were the usual mix of historic remembrance and recognition of contemporary achievements, there can be no denying the fact that a shadow hung over the festivities there as well as over the observances of the date elsewhere.

The problem is the knowledge that this is the first Jerusalem Day since President Barack Obama made it clear that a repartition of the city has become one of America's priorities in the Middle East. Though no American government ever recognized Israel's unification of Jerusalem or, indeed, even the fact that the city has been the country's capital since 1949, Obama's is the first administration to state explicitly that the Jewish presence in the parts of the city that the Jordanian occupiers vacated in 1967 is illegal and to actively oppose the building of Jewish housing even in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city.

Though more than 200,000 Jews live in the eastern, northern, and southern sections of the city, which the media routinely incorrectly labels "East Jerusalem," those Jewish neighborhoods there are, according to this administration, a violation of international law and an "insult" to America. U.S. diplomats have made it clear to the Israelis that any building that goes on in these neighborhoods of the capital is a "provocation" that is not only anathema to the United States but also a legitimate excuse for the Palestinian Authority to boycott the so-called proximity talks now going on (so named because Palestinian representatives will only allow themselves to communicate indirectly with Israeli negotiators rather than sit and speak directly with them). And though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel will not be deterred from continuing to build the Jewish presence in the city, it is not exactly a secret that all such projects have been put on hold, in order to avoid escalating the tensions that are already apparent in the relationship with the White House.

It is worth repeating on this, of all days, that despite the unique connection between the Jews and Jerusalem (it was never the capital of any entity other than a Jewish kingdom), only in the 43 years of full Israeli sovereignty over the united city has there been freedom of worship for all faiths. (The Jordanians prevented Jews from worshipping at the Western Wall or at other Jewish shrines under their control from 1949 to 1967, just as any Jewish sites currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority have become no-go zones for Israelis.)

Moreover, Netanyahu couldn't be more right when he notes, as he did again today in his Jerusalem Day speech, that Jews "are not foreign invaders" in their own capital. Yet that is exactly the implication of Obama's stand. By turning the building of Jewish housing in the city's Jewish neighborhoods into an international incident, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to demand anything less than the eviction of the Jews from the city; just as they demand of the Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank. Though it must be admitted that there was never any chance that the Palestinians would accept any peace deal under any circumstances, Obama's ultimatum about freezing housing projects in Jerusalem has certainly ensured that peace is further away than ever.

The juxtaposition of a Jerusalem Day celebrated under tacit American protest ought to remind American friends of Israel who remain supporters of Obama that the man they elected president has done more to undermine the unity of the Jewish state's capital than 43 years of Arab propaganda. Those who never wish to see the city divided again or to have Jews barred from parts of it must understand that this is exactly the direction in which the Obama administration is headed.


Jonathan Tobin

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