November 10, 2010

Build in the West Bank, just don't call it "Jerusalem".

This week's announcement that Israel will construct hundreds of new apartments in "East Jerusalem" was obviously not helpful to advancing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but it was not intended to be. It's also doubtful that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was looking for such a development at this time.

A look at any accurate map of the region, however, reveals that the "East Jerusalem neighborhood" of Har Homa is neither east nor Jerusalem (hint: it's the summit adjacent to Rachel's Tomb and labeled "Jabal Abu Ghunaym"). It's Bethlehem, and would have been packed with Palestinian homes had the Arab population been allowed natural expansion. 

I remember emerging from an all-night consultation over 20 years ago at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, at Jerusalem's southern tip, and gazing further south in the crisp morning light to the deserted high ground dividing us from Bethlehem. Little did I realize, that high ground was none other than Har Choma.

Israelis may choose to build in integral parts of Jerusalem that are beyond the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice lines), they may decide to build in areas that are clearly the West Bank, and they may need to limit Palestinian construction for security or political reasons. And the Tomb of Rachel, which (judging by the map) catches morning shade from Har Homa, is irrevocably a Jewish and not a Palestinian shrine. But there is no way I can call Har Homa "Jerusalem" without contradicting the Torah account that Rachel was buried in Bethlehem.

Historically, geographically, geologically, Har Homa is not Jerusalem. Getting Israel's supporters to believe that it is only undermines our credibility and our capacity to advance Israel's case in Washington, at the United Nations, and with governments that might otherwise be helpful on a variety of issues -- including the effort to counter Iran's rogue nuclear program. If it's really so important to make a stand on Har Homa, it should be worth braving the truth.


  1. Okay, so I get that Har homa is not in Jerusalem and I get the 'implied' consequences if Israel proceeds with constructing this development. But, 'implied' is not sufficient. What precisely are those consequences? How would it impact the stalled negotiations and how would it affect domestic politics in Israel?

  2. Thanks, David. In all probability, the consequences for the peace process aren't as disastrous as if a few hundred units were announced for what Israel considers the West Bank. But it definitely detracted from Obama's renewed outreach to the Islamic world in Indonesia, and amplified the insult to Muslim powers like Pakistan, already smarting over the President's Indian honeymoon. Jim Besser has a very useful analysis on the whole affair: