The Associated Press seems to think that Benjamin Netanyahu has caved to a demand by Barack Obama to freeze construction in East Jerusalem. Other Israeli officials explain a sudden halt in activity as the fallout from increased scrutiny after the announcement of approval for expansion surprised the Israeli Prime Minister during a visit by US VP Joe Biden. Either way, the practical effect has been a halt in construction just when Obama demanded it:
The Israeli government has imposed a de facto freeze on new Jewish construction in the city’s disputed eastern sector despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public insistence it would not be stopped in the face of U.S. pressure, Jerusalem municipal officials said Monday.
The apparent freeze would likely reflect Netanyahu’s need to mend a serious rift with the U.S. over Israeli construction on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state, and to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
However, it remained unclear if the slowdown actually constituted a moratorium or how long it would last.
An Israeli government official claimed a weekslong delay in reviewing plans for new construction was a bureaucratic issue and not evidence of a freeze. But the fact that new plans are not going ahead dovetails with signs that the Palestinians might ease their demand that the contentious construction stop before they resume peace talks.
One Jerusalem politician said that Netanyahu had ordered the freeze after getting humiliated by the surprise announcement. Another disputed that characterization, but said Netanyahu had demanded so much coordination with national ministries that the committees overseeing construction couldn’t set meeting dates in the near term. Previously, those panels had met on a weekly basis, but now it’s been “several months” with no meetings at all, and without the meetings, construction cannot proceed.
Either way, it appears that the US temper tantrum had its desired effect. Israel has stopped its construction in a neighborhood where it hadn’t ever been seriously questioned prior to this year. Meryl Yourish wonders exactly what Obama hoped to gain from this effort:
Israel made peace with Egypt in 1979. As a result, Israelis can look forward to regular warnings of terrorist attacks and kidnappings when they visit Sinai resorts. The Egyptian foreign minister calls Israel “the enemy.” Egypt boycotted the annual Mediterranean student conference because it was held in Israel. The Sinai is used to regularly smuggle arms to Hamas. A second Israeli was arrested and held by Egypt for accidentally crossing the border. Egypt restored the Maimonides synagogue and then declared that no Jew will ever pray in it (this was the same guy who said he’d burn any Israeli books he found). That’s just a short list of the benefits of peace with Egypt. Of course, Israel hasn’t fought a war with Egypt since 1973. But Egyptians are arming Israel’s enemies.
Israel left Gaza in 2005. In return, Israel got rockets, mortars, and terror attacks, and a war in 2008. Hamas is in control of the Strip and has been for several years. Hamas has thousands of rockets and missiles stored in bunkers, ready for another attack on Israel when they feel strong enough (or when their Iranian masters give the go-ahead). This was one of the Palestinian demands—the eviction of all Jews from Gaza. They got what they wanted. And yet, there is still not peace between the residents of Gaza and Israel.
Israel left Lebanon in 2000. The United Nations certified that Israel left every square inch of Lebanese territory. Hizballah stockpiled tens of thousands of rockets and mortars, crossed into Israeli territory to kill and capture Israeli soldiers, which started a war in 2006. Now, the UN says that the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese—not Syrian—territory, giving Hizballah the excuse they have wanted for years to say that Israel is still holding Lebanese territory and “resistance” must be used. Hizballah has a stockpile of tens of thousand of rockets, and now Syria is supplying them with Scud missiles.
The problem blocking peace in this region isn’t that Israel builds homes in East Jerusalem. It’s that the Palestinians want Israel destroyed, and that Iran and Syria are backing their efforts to remain as intransigent as possible until Iran can go to war with Israel directly. If the US wants to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and end Islamist terrorism in the region, we need to confront Iran, not Bibi Netanyahu.